Photo via UFC.com
For years, the UFC built up Tito Ortiz as its golden child. Already the light heavyweight champion since UFC 25, the promotion plastered his face on posters, DVD's, and anything else they could market him with.
In fact, since Zuffa took over at UFC 30, Ortiz has headlined 11 events, including his UFC 40 main event against Ken Shamrock, which broke all sorts of records. To this day, it is still one of the largest gates for a mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Nevada.
Tito Ortiz seemingly had it all. And then, he didn't.
So where did it all go wrong?
Despite Ortiz having already gone on record stating UFC brass wanted him to retire after he lost to Matt Hamill -- his fifth straight fight without getting his hand raised -- "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" is set to make what many feel will be his last appearance inside the Octagon this Saturday (July 2) at UFC 132: "Cruz vs. Faber" when he takes on Ryan Bader.
Before Ortiz possibly bids goodbye to the company he helped establish as a pay-per-view (PPV) powerhouse, we'll take a look at his career, the highs and the lows.
Let's dive in.
Ortiz was born in Huntington Beach, California in January of 1975. The son of Mexican and American parents, his formative years were less than ideal. After moving to Santa Ana when he was five, his parents dabbled in drugs and were never financially stable.
Living out of motels, Ortiz has admitted to hanging out with gangs around that time. Finally, in a decision that probably saved Tito's life, his mother split from his father and moved the two of them back to Huntington Beach.
Ortiz enrolled in Huntington Beach High and joined the wrestling team as a sophomore. He excelled at the sport and he placed 4th in the state championships his senior year. Fourth place is nothing to sneeze at especially when you've only been wrestling for three years and most especially in a state as large as California. This achievement was the first glimpse at Ortiz's dedication and natural athleticism.
After high school, Ortiz continued to wrestle. The more he wrestled, the better he got. While attending Golden West College, he won a state junior college title. Again, a lofty accolade for a relative newcomer to the sport. He then spent some time at Cal State Bakersfield honing his craft. During this time he also became interested in the growing sport of mixed martial arts. He began to cross-train, using his wrestling background as his core.
His MMA debut was at UFC 13, a card that consisted of two four-man tournaments, one for heavyweights and the other for "lightweights" (under 200 lbs., in the pre-weight class days). Ortiz fought in the first fight of the night, an alternate bout, against fellow newcomer Wes Albritton. Ortiz destroyed Albritton 30 seconds into the first round and the poor fellow never competed in MMA again. An injury to another fighter inserted Ortiz into the finals of the tournament against the Ken Shamrock-trained Guy Mezger.
Mezger had been in the MMA scene for years now, spending most of his time in the Japanese promotion Pancrase. Ortiz had been training for a little over six months. What should have been an easy victory for the more experienced Mezger became an almost one-sided beating as Ortiz's superior wrestling ability kept Mezger on his back.
Ortiz began delivering knee after knee to Mezger's head before referee John McCarthy stopped the fight. Most thought Mezger had tapped due to the strikes but McCarthy simply wanted a doctor to look at a cut. A controversial call by McCarthy put both fighters back on their feet instead of the position they were previously in.
The inexperience of Ortiz reared its head and he ended up getting choked out seconds later. Many felt that the newcomer was on his way to a victory against the more experienced Mezger so it wasn't too long before they fought again.
With "The World's Most Dangerous Man" again in his corner, Mezger rematched Ortiz at UFC 19. This time, with more submission defense under his belt, Ortiz easily bested Mezger. In typical Tito Ortiz fashion, he took Mezger down and pounded the hell out of him.
This was a turning point in Ortiz's career. He had beaten a legitimate contender in Guy Mezger and proved his mettle in the cage. The fight, however, isn't what fans really remember. It was what happened after that has become legend.
After winning, Ortiz put on a homemade t-shirt that read "GAY Mezger is my Bitch" Proper capitalization aside, Shamrock was infuriated at the lack of respect shown by Ortiz. The then-WWF star climbed halfway up the cage and yelled at Ortiz, shaking his finger in the young fighter's face as if he were scolding a child. "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" simply smiled back at Shamrock saying only a few words. Eventually Ortiz was pulled away but the seeds of rivalry had been planted.
For three and a half years, the two took any opportunity they got to badmouth the other. All the while, Ortiz was finding great success in the Octagon. He took Frank Shamrock -- Ken's adopted brother -- to the limit but came up short. When Frank vacated his title, Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva squared up to decide a new champion.
The American walked away with the win and the belt and proceeded to rack up four successful defenses. His defeat of Evan Tanner was particularly impressive. He slammed the number one contender to the mat within a minute of the first round rendering him unconscious.
Shamrock was belly-to-belly suplexing The Rock and Bret Hart in the world of professional wrestling, making money hand over fist compared to what he was earning in the UFC.
But the itch of the fight was too much for Shamrock to ignore and in 2000, he signed with Pride Fighting Championships. He went 1-2 during his time with the Japanese promotion including an epic battle with Don Frye that had lasting effects on the health of each man.
His second loss wasn't as impressive. Shamrock clearly dominated Kazuyuki Fujita early on in their bout but could not finish him off. Completely gassed out a little over midway through Pride's 10-minute first round, Shamrock had his corner throw in the towel.
Despite their careers going in seemingly opposite directions, fans still clamored for a match. They got their wish on November 22, 2002. At UFC 40: "Vendetta," Ortiz and Shamrock finally got their chance to settle their differences in the cage.
The fight went much like Ortiz's past fights had gone. He took Shamrock down and punished him with punches and elbows until the 38-year old simply could not take any more. After the third of five scheduled rounds, "The World's Most Dangerous Man" had had enough.
Youth had beaten experience. The last remnants of the old guard were finally cast aside to make way for the new UFC. Tito's UFC. And how else would Tito celebrate?
He put on a homemade shirt that read "I Just Killed Kenny, You Bastard!"
Yes, Tito Ortiz seemingly had it all.
Part two: Losing the title, losing fights, and losing respect