By Jesse Holland
Love him or hate him, there is no denying the impact "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" has on the continuing evolution of mixed martial arts. In fact, the mere mention of his name is usually enough to start a heated debate between UFC enthusiasts.
Is he one of the world's top light-heavyweights destined to recapture gold?
Or is he a B-level fighter who's mastered the art of self-promotion?
There is no right or wrong answer, just opinions that are as diverse as his fan base.
I caught up with Tito in the late afternoon as he rested his injured back. He spoke softly but assertively with UFCmania (www.ufcmania.com), and as one might expect was never short on words.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Tito, first and foremost thank you for taking the time to talk with us here at UFCmania.com. You just returned from the USO tour in Iraq. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
Tito Ortiz: Actually we (Tito and good friend Justin McCully) returned Sunday night. It was a very interesting travel expedition. It was great. We wanted to help some of these guys that got hurt in the war in addition to the guys already fighting there. It was really crazy to go there and see this stuff in person. It was like a reality check and it's made me rededicate myself to these troops. Guys have been over there for more than 14 months away from their families. That's hard to do.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Well it's not like you just hopped on Jet Blue and flew into Iraq. Tell us about the difficulties in getting there.
Tito Ortiz: It was sketchy. We flew in on a C-130 and had to make a combat landing where they land kind of crazy like a big U-turn to avoid getting hit with a rocket launcher. Then we took a Blackhawk to get to the troops.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): I'll bet it was a humbling experience.
Tito Ortiz: I've been in battles in the Octagon but it doesn't compare to what these guys are going through. Every person there had a rifle on them. You can try to describe it but until you're really there feeling what they're feeling you have no idea. It really put a smile on my face. It made me want to rededicate myself. When I fight again and beat Rashad it's going to be for them, for the troops. They're the real heroes.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Let's switch gears and talk about Punishment Athletics. I understand you want to take it in a new direction.
Tito Ortiz: We're pushing forward now and we're starting to get into dressier clothes. Punishment is for everyday life. Guys who wake up at four or five in the morning and put in a 15-hour day, that's punishment. Everything you try to get out of life and achieve is punishment. It's a brand, something I'm gonna continue with and that's the next step for us. You're gonna see dressier t-shirts, button-ups, stuff like that. I've already conquered the mixed martial arts market and now its time to move into another realm.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How involved are you in the design phase?
Tito Ortiz: Everything is 100 percent my ideas. The logos, the layouts, everything. We're going towards the gladiator side of it now. I watched 300 and I loved the film. It's the same type of idea of punishment and the gladiators. It goes hand-in-hand.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How's your relationship with Jenna Jameson?
Tito Ortiz: It's great, she's actually right here with me. We're getting along great.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How involved is she with the business aspect of your career?
Tito Ortiz: She's more of an adviser. She has a lot of experience. I also have a great attorney now who handles everything for me so I can focus on training.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you see yourself as more of a businessman or a fighter? Can you be successful at both without one hurting the other?
Tito Ortiz: I'm a fighter at heart. I wouldn't be where I am if I wasn't. I've had to fight for everything I have. Whether its fighting to get my contract with the UFC or fighting to make my clothing better I'm always fighting. People call me a fighter and people call me a businessman. People may even call me both. In reality I'm just a smart guy who knows how to take care of himself.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): The rematch with Rashad Evans is the last fight on your current contract. Where do you go from there?
Tito Ortiz: I don't know, I want to fight someone in the top five. Anybody. I would love to get a great match. I don't know, who do you want to see me fight?
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How about your unfinished business with Frank Shamrock?
Tito Ortiz: That would be awesome but you know what? I would love to fight him again and cave his face in. People would rag on me because he's a 185 lb. guy. He did beat me, but people always say stupid things like now I want to fight a smaller guy because I can't beat anyone else. I think a lot of people would pay for it to happen.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): You know with the way Frank talks it wouldn't matter if he were a lightweight some people just want to see him get his.
Tito Ortiz: I'll give it to him he was the better man that night. He got the better of a young and inexperienced fighter but if we did fight again I would feel sorry for him. I really don't think he could stand five rounds of punishment. Last time I gassed out like ten seconds into the fourth round. I remember it to a tee. I was a young punk kid. He could sell the fight and possibly make it interesting and we'd get a million pay-per-view (PPV) buys because I believe we have that much star power. You know my fans support me no matter what.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): On that note, who is the more delusional Shamrock, Frank or Ken?
Tito Ortiz: (Laughs) I would say Ken. Frank's intelligent. For a 185 lb. guy he's good. Ken was a man of his time. Once we all caught on to his style it was the end of Ken.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): I've always said that Ken could have been an all-time great but the ship kind of passed him by during those four years he spent in the WWF.
Tito Ortiz: For sure. That was the turning point for our sport when it started to really become mixed martial arts. You can't take so much time off and come back expecting to be at the same level as the rest of the talent. He blew it.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): A lot of fans like myself want to know once and for all: Who is the real Tito? Is he the guy in the Octagon who is accused of disrespectful antics or is he the helpful and caring coach from the third season of The Ultimate Fighter?
Tito Ortiz: The real Tito goes from day-to-day and lives a normal life. I wake up, brush my teeth, take a shower, take a shit, and whatever everybody else does. The Ultimate Fighter Three is the real Tito. When I step into the Octagon that's a character that I portray to get my aggression out. I entertain when I fight. That's why so many people buy my PPV's. They know win, lose or draw they're gonna get their money's worth when I fight.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Speaking of draws, you're predicting a win against Rashad in the rematch?
Tito Ortiz: I'm not predicting anything, I'm guaranteeing it.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How hard is it dealing with the steroid issue in the UFC?
Tito Ortiz: You know what it comes down to is you separate the men from the kids. The men are the ones who fight and don't use drugs. The kids fight and try and use drugs to win. I don't understand it to be honest, these guys pin their hopes on this stuff and they get popped for it.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): So you're going on record as being steroid free?
Tito Ortiz: Hell yeah man I've been tested all the time and never come up positive. I don't believe in using that stuff and I never have. My old training camp before Team Punishment was always trying to push it on me but I said no and left. I read the message boards. I know what people are saying but you know what? People don't have a clue as to what they're talking about. I've been gifted, gifted by God that's it.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you have an opinion on the Sean Sherk scandal?
Tito Ortiz: You know he said he didn't do it so I gotta believe him. I know him and he's a really, really good guy and if he says he didn't do it then I'm behind him 100 percent. Maybe something in his vitamins threw his system off. You never know with over-the-counter stuff.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you feel the same way about recreational drugs like marijuana? Guys in your stable like Kendall Grove openly admit to using it.
Tito Ortiz: All of us have. I have, of course but there is a time for recreation and there is a time for work. When it's time for work you need to be focused on training and preparing for your fight, not smoking pot. That's wrong, completely wrong. You have to separate the two.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): You're a fighter who is known for your cardio. Is that getting harder to maintain now that you're in your thirties?
Tito Ortiz: It's there. I'm in the groove. I'm more worried about my back. When I fought Rashad I thought I was in really good shape until the second round when my back went out and I couldn't feel my legs.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): How do you feel now?
Tito Ortiz: I feel a lot better now. It doesn't ache the way it did. After the fight I had to lay down every single day. I've made it through this interview so far sitting down so that's good. I've been getting anti-inflammatory shots and hopefully I can start training in the next week or two.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): You've gone on record and said that you were not interested in fighting Rampage because of your friendship. But what if Rampage was the only thing that stood between you and the title?
Tito Ortiz: If we were making awesome money, hell yeah. That's the whole thing. When I fought Liddell, people were saying that I was afraid. I wasn't afraid I just wanted to make the right money. Look at what we made on the second fight. I don't want to take any money out of Rampage's family's mouth and I know he wouldn't want to do the same thing to me.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): You've always kept busy outside of fighting whether its movies or pro wrestling. Is that something you will pursue after you're finished fighting?
Tito Ortiz: The next step for my foundation is the acting. I'm 32 years old and I've been in this sport for 10 years and I've done very well. I'm one of the UFC's most recognizable names. I have probably five more years and then acting will be the next step for me.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): If Joe Silva called you tomorrow and said you can have one more fight after Rashad and it can be against anyone, who would it be?
Tito Ortiz: Shogun.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you buy into the Shogun hype or do you think he's getting too much credit?
Tito Ortiz: We'll see. He has a very tough fight against Forrest. Forrest will test him and honestly it would be funny to see him lose to Forrest. He can do it. Forrest has Randy in his corner and Randy is a smart guy. Shogun needs to be outwrestled and the question is can Forrest wrestle?
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): You mentioned Randy Couture. What's your relationship with him at this point?
Tito Ortiz: Strictly business. I say hi when I see him face-to-face. If I needed help I know he wouldn't show up for me but I would show up for him because that's how much respect I have for the guy. We're on good terms but Randy's his own person now.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Fans of the UFC who have been around are starting to see a lot of the early guys enter the twilight of their careers. Do you think Wanderlei Silva is a great fighter who's just had a run of bad luck or is he just a reckless brawler who's past his prime?
Tito Ortiz: He's a reckless brawler whose talent hasn't gotten any better. He just punches straight and comes at you. The way to beat him is just to pick him apart. Henderson showed that but what really hurt him was getting knocked out by Cro Cop. Some guys don't recover from that and the next time it happens even faster and before you know it a guy's career is over. He can do good in the UFC but he has a problem with the cage and he can be outwrestled. But hey he's still a top fighter. I have him in the top five or six in the world.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Bigger adrenaline rush: First night as light-heavyweight champ or first night with Jenna Jameson?
Tito Ortiz: First night as champ. I worked my whole life to get there. Jenna is a blessing and an awesome woman. Everyday with her is great.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Where is your relationship headed?
Tito Ortiz: Right now we're just enjoying every day. We haven't talked about marriage at all. Right now we're best friends and we don't need the pressure of marriage plans getting in the way with that. We're as happy as we can possibly be.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania):You're living the dream man.
Tito Ortiz: (Laughs) I just finished with my writer Mark Shapiro for my book coming out possibly in March with Simon and Schuster. It was like therapy. It's going to be an interesting story.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): What's left for Tito to accomplish?
Tito Ortiz: Well I have my next fight with Rashad possibly in October or November. I'm not 100 percent sure yet but I'm hoping it's in Vegas and not Cincinnati. I love Vegas. It's my home away from home. After that I'll hopefully sign with the UFC again or maybe somebody else. We'll see. My heart's in the UFC but anything can happen. I have to make sure that I make the right moves so that I don't have to ever worry about money again. That's the most important thing to me as a businessman and as someone who's fought to get everything I have. Besides, who's gonna say no to me? Somebody out there is going to pay me what I want. I'm dealing with Lorenzo Fertitta now and he's awesome to deal with, a great businessman, not like that loser they have as President. What a horrible guy. He's gonna send the company down the drain because sooner or later the fighters are gonna realize they don't have to be bullied anymore. They should just get rid of Dana.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you think the demise of PRIDE hurts the fighter's long term earnings in that they have no place else to fight?
Tito Ortiz: Of course. It's a monopoly. Where else are you gonna fight? Fighters want to make more money but they have to accept what Dana gives them because it's the only game in town.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Do you think fighters are secretly hoping EliteXC takes off so they have some bargaining power?
Tito Ortiz: You never know. Maybe the UFC will eventually step up. The UFC made $221,000,000 last year and maybe $10,000,000 of that went to fighters. Maybe. And that's just domestic PPV's. That's a lot of money. Now fighters are talking about a union. Hey, you never know.
Jesse Holland (UFCmania): Tito, thank again for checking in with us. Good luck in your upcoming fight against Rashad Evans. Anything we can plug for you?
Tito Ortiz: Be sure to check out my Web sites www.TitoOrtiz.com and www.PunishmentAthletics.com. And remember that we have our friends and families still in Iraq and we need to support them no matter if you're for the war or against it.