Third time is the charm: Tito Ortiz interview exclusive with MMAmania

tito ortiz

Tito Ortiz is no stranger to criticism.

He’s used to fans either loving him or hating him — in fact, he’s built his career on it. Since his return to the UFC from an 18-month exile, his critics still point to the fact that he hasn’t won in four fights (including a draw to Rashad Evans).

In fact, he hasn’t won since October 2006, when he knocked out a geriatric Ken Shamrock for (hopefully) the last time. But his legions of fans will remind you that he still holds wins over former champions in Forrest Griffin (1-1 career), Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva.

He’s still the only man to successfully defend the UFC light heavyweight world title five consecutive times — one more than Chuck Liddell and Frank Shamrock — which ties reigning middleweight demigod Anderson Silva and former welterweight champion Matt Hughes for consecutive UFC title defenses.

And "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" still commands one hell of a draw, having headlined some of the most-watched mixed martial arts fights in history. And now, Tito Ortiz (15-7-1) has the opportunity to not only avenge his two losses to Chuck Liddell (21-7), but he can potentially retire the aging former champion in the process. And he’ll do it while attempting to prop up the 11th run of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), the promotion’s franchise series.

TUF has seen its ups and downs in ratings over the last few seasons, with last season’s infusion featuring ratings crusher Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson. But despite more viewers, the action just wasn’t there.

Some thought that if the UFC planned to go after #11, they were going to have to cough up yet another ace in their sleeve. Ortiz and Liddell are banking that their third trip to the center of the Octagon — and their second respective tenures serving as TUF coaches — is just that ace.

And they might be right.

Featuring middleweights, TUF 11 debuts on March 31 on Spike TV. It will run for 12 episodes, culminating in The Ultimate Fighter Finale on June 19. In a switch from previous seasons, the TUF 11 coaches, Ortiz and Liddell, are reportedly facing off the week before the Finale, at UFC 115 in Vancouver, although it hasn’t been officially announced.

We caught up with Ortiz recently and asked him who came up with the idea for the newest TUF installment, whether or not he thinks Chuck’s lost a step, and if he sees himself alongside Liddell in the UFC’s Hall of Fame one day.

Check it out.

Adam Wagner ( You were recently named the future coach on The Ultimate Fighter Season 11. How did this come about? Did the UFC approach you about it, was it your idea, was it Chuck’s idea?

Tito Ortiz: Well actually, it was Dana’s idea. Dana was the one who pretty much asked if I would do it. He said, "We want you and Chuck to fight again." I was like, "I’m in, let’s do it." It was just one of those things that came down to (the fact that) we both get high ratings, we both get great pay-per-views, the last time we fought we had over a million and a half pay-per-views, so let’s do number three. I’m game. I’m willing to challenge myself. I had my last two losses against Machida and against Forrest. Chuck had his last two losses. So let’s do it a third time — third time’s my charm. So I’m excited. Just the fact of being a coach, I just did HDNet’s "Inside MMA," and people said that Chuck is going to beat me as a coach. Sixty-one percent said that, and I kinda laughed. Because now it’s not only a fight, but a coaching game, a competition. So I’m excited for one of the best seasons The Ultimate Fighter has ever had against Chuck Liddell.

Adam Wagner ( You have coaching experience, having coached high school and junior college wrestling, correct?

Tito Ortiz: Yes, I did.

Adam Wagner ( You’ve talked about how you enjoy it. What is it about coaching specifically that you like so much?

Tito Ortiz: I think it’s getting a guy who’s raw — a guy who doesn’t know much at all — and putting him through the same situations that I’ve been myself as a champion. Show him dedication, self-sacrifice and show him the rewards that come out of it. Now the next step in The Ultimate Fighter is, I’m not only going to be teaching these guys how to fight, I’m going to teach these guys how to be businessmen, how to do PR, how to do the backend stuff to help make them superstars. And that’s what I want to do. Because the first season, all I did was worry about these guys as fighters. Matt Hamill, Kendall Grove and Michael Bisping — I helped these guys to sacrifice and understand what sacrifice is about to be some of the best fighters. In this season, I’m going to make it a little more interesting for the fans to watch, I think. I’m going to do a few other things, and make it a little harder for the guys. I’m going to ask them to be sober for these six weeks. It’s only six weeks of their lives. If this means that much to them, and if they want to be the best fighters possible, going out partying, drinking and getting hammered is something they’re going to have to sacrifice. With every sacrifice comes a reward. So we’ll see, hopefully these guys are in great shape. Just getting into the mental state of these guys and teaching them the right things, all with positive reinforcement. There’ll be no negativity. There will be no "You can’t do this" and "You can’t do that." It’s going to be "How are we going to do it?" and "What do we need to do to make it happen?" I think that’s the biggest thing that coaching really stands by is being positive next to your fighters.

Adam Wagner ( I know it’s ultimately up to the editors — you know, how they tell the story of the TUF 11 season — but clearly you’re hoping that they show some of those parts of you teaching them about the business aspects of fighting too?

Tito Ortiz: I hope they do. The first season I did it, every week I challenged them. I said, "Whoever works the hardest I’m going to bring you guys out for dinner." And every week there was someone who worked harder, someone who got to get out of the house and got to go to the casino. We’d eat at the Hard Rock, and they got to go out and eat a nice dinner with me. Well they never showed that on Season 3. But these guys who work hard, every week it was a different guy doing it, because they work harder and harder each week. And that’s challenging them. And hopefully with the business stuff I’ll bring into it, and the PR stuff, hopefully they’ll film it and they’ll get it. I mean they’re going to have to — they’re going to have to show it — because that’s a part of a fighter. That’s part of it. We’re not just guys who get in a cage and kill each other, or get inside a gym and train all the time. I mean that’s what I’ve done. In my career, I’ve done PR classes, speech classes, I’ve sat down with a business manager. I’ve sat down and mapped out my future. It’s not just getting in a cage and fighting. A lot of people don’t understand that. The guys who just get in a cage and fight — those are the guys that are forgotten about. I want to make sure that the guys that I coach, that doesn’t happen to. I want to make sure that they are known in the UFC forever, not just as great fighters but as great promoters also.

Adam Wagner ( Have they selected the middleweights who are going to be competing yet?

Tito Ortiz: Yes, they did select them, but I don’t know who they are yet. As I say through all my interviews, everybody who’s been chosen, please be in shape. Just be in very, very "stair-running" shape, as they say. (Laughs)

Adam Wagner ( Of course you get to fight Chuck at the end. Is having the chance to avenge your losses to Chuck the motivating factor, or would you have taken the TUF coaching gig, had they offered someone else?

Tito Ortiz: I would have taken the gig either way, but for me right now, I think the most important thing is to get revenge on Chuck. This is a revenge match for me. I’m going to work my butt off. I have no more back problems, I have no more excuses. If this camp goes smooth before the fight with Chuck, and the fight happens, and we both step in the cage, it’s going to be an action-packed fight. Someone’s going to get knocked out, for sure. That’s a guarantee. I’m going to give it my all, and I know Chuck’s going to give it his all. The age difference is a big difference. But I think the biggest thing behind it is this is going to be one of the biggest pay-per-views of the year, just because so many people want to watch me and Chuck fight against each other again. And maybe they’ll put a great undercard together. Maybe they’ll put some huge names on the undercard, but we’re just going to have to wait and see.

Adam Wagner ( What do you see as being the deciding factor in what will make this fight different from the previous two?

Tito Ortiz: I think my speed and timing. I just started working already — it’s January now — I just started working on my boxing skills, my kickboxing, my jiu-jitsu. My wrestling will start in about a week and a half, two weeks. But I started early this time. Before I fought Forrest, I was catching up to 18 months of layoff. It was three months training, but I should have been training six months prior, just because of the layoff that I had. Now I’m just going from one fight to another, I’m going back to back. I took almost four weeks off for Christmas and New Years. I had a little injury before the fight, I had a fractured orbital bone. It’s finally healed. The blackeye’s finally going away, and it’s already been five weeks later. I want to get back in the gym, and I can get back in the gym to work on my timing, and I think that that’s going to make a big difference is timing. Any fighter, they know when you get back in the gym right after a fight, it’s really important for your timing to still be there. And I noticed that my timing was there after I fought Forrest.

Adam Wagner ( Do you think Chuck’s lost a step?

Tito Ortiz: I think Chuck’s lost a step. You know, maybe I’ve lost a step too. But that’s what makes the fight so exciting. I think this is going to be a fight of the year. One hundred percent. I’m going to give it my all. Chuck has a lot to prove himself. He doesn’t want to retire. He’s coming off "Dancing with the Stars." He’s coming off a couple big losses. Is his chin suspect? Yes. Am I going to test it? Yes. Do a lot of my fans want to see me beat this guy? Yes. So it’s just one of those things. I’m going to come in as I always do, entertain, give a great fight and my hand’s going to be raised.

Adam Wagner ( Chuck is of course now a Hall of Famer. Let’s be real here, it wasn’t all that long ago when your chances of getting into the Hall of Fame might have been different because of your relationship at that time with the UFC. But now you guys are on great terms. Do you now see a day when you’ll be getting that offer?

Tito Ortiz: I don’t know. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, I don’t think. I still see a lot more fights in front of me. I don’t know, a year? A year and a half away? I’m not sure. To me, I just want to get a world title around my waist again, and I gotta win matches. When I fought Forrest, I thought I beat him, but they gave it to him, which is fine. Everything happens for a reason. I showed how I can compete against a guy after an 18-month layoff and with major back surgery, I can still compete against a guy who’s ranked fifth in the world. So I’m still a force to be reckoned (with) around here. People who know really know who won that fight. And the judges? One judge had it three to zero? How can you give it three to zero when I dominate the first two rounds? But it’s in the past, it’s behind me. It’s all negative stuff underneath me. I’m moving on. I’m going to do The Ultimate Fighter, I’m going to beat Chuck and I’m going to get a rematch against Forrest. And I would like to get a match against possibly Rashad if he beats Rampage or … I don’t know, who else is there? Name me one of the guys in the light heavyweight division. I just want the chance to get my world title again. I think that’s my biggest goal. Now that I got the back surgery, it went really well. It’s nice to wake up with no back problems. For once in the last six years to wake up and not have an aching back. I’m able to run, I’m able to do squats, I’m able to do the stuff that I haven’t been (able to) over the last three years. Getting a world title around my waist is most important. Secondly, being in the Hall of Fame. I’ve been here longer than any other fighter. Me and Randy Couture were the guys that pretty much started it together. We started the same night, UFC 13, and we’re still here. We’re still competing. There’s no other guy that can beat our record. Actually, I think I have the most appearances inside the Octagon. One or two more (than Couture), I believe.*

[*Author’s note: Ortiz has 22 fights inside the UFC, as does Chuck Liddell. Randy Couture and Matt Hughes both have 21 appearances. I’m not aware of anyone else with more.]

Adam Wagner ( Speaking of "Inside MMA," they had brought up how it wouldn’t be a Tito Ortiz fight if you weren’t, I think they put it, trying to rattle Chuck’s cage, playing some psychological warfare. We’re still several months out, and of course we’ll probably see some throughout the TUF season. But do you have anything specific planned out for him?

Tito Ortiz: No, there’ll be a couple things. Not too much, it’s going to be more about the team. It’s going to be more about me focusing on the guys, and putting my full focus to make the best athletes I possibly can help to make. I’m not going to make them. I’m going to help them. I’m going to show them the way to walk and see if they can follow the footsteps. It’s going to be Team Punishment vs. Team Liddell. I’m going to teach these guys (like) I’ve taught Rampage, I taught Ricco Rodriguez, I taught Rob McCullough, Tiki (Ghosn), I mean all these guys that have made it in the sport. I’m going to teach them the same things that I’ve done. So these guys that are going to be on my team, they’re going to be exciting, man. They’re going to be happy to be a part of Team Punishment.

Adam Wagner ( Well, I look forward to the season, I think it has a lot of potential. It certainly keeps things interesting. We’ve seen with the last few seasons, people have sometimes criticized it, "Has The Ultimate Fighter run its course?" I think last season with the addition of Kimbo Slice, the ratings went up again. And clearly you have the ratings history to make it happen. And perhaps you and Chuck as coaches was the only logical option to increase ratings, I don’t know.

Tito Ortiz: Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of fans are really intrigued to watch me, to see what I’m going to do next. You know, I gotta dedicate this one to the fans. This one’s to the fans that support me and have been behind me. It came full circle. A year ago, I didn’t even know if I was going to be fighting in the UFC again. I didn’t know if I was going to be part of the UFC, and a lot of fans were really bummed about it. The reason I came back was because of the fans. Lorenzo and Dana really were giving in my contract, and I gotta thank them for that. I gotta thank Dana for giving me this opportunity to be on The Ultimate Fighter. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the star that I am. And if it wasn’t for the fans, I wouldn’t be the star that I am either. Those are the guys that support me through wins, losses or draws. That’s what it’s about, man. Just as long as I can get in the cage and compete like I always do. It’s going to be exciting. And this season is going to be like no other season anybody’s ever seen, and I promise you that.

Adam Wagner ( Well, Tito, I thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I wanted to give you the chance to thank and sponsors.

Tito Ortiz: You know, Adam, of course I’d want to thank my sponsor Punishment Athletics. It’s our 10-year anniversary, and it’s our one-year anniversary at my Punishment MMA store at the Hooter’s in Las Vegas also. I want to thank them for their support at Hooter’s.

You can check out some pics of Ortiz’s Punishment MMA store here.

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