Photo via UFC.com
Tito Ortiz had just headlined UFC 40 -- the biggest event in the company's history up until that point -- where he easily dispatched of long-time rival Ken Shamrock and added another successful title defense to his already-long résumé.
But within two and a half years, he was gone from the company.
How did it come to that point? Why would Tito Ortiz leave the company that made him famous and why would the UFC let its biggest box office draw just walk away?
Money and Chuck Liddell ... in that order.
With that in mind, a look back at his storied career is in order. Spanning over 150 UFC events, Ortiz -- along with Vitor Belfort -- is one of the last remaining figures of an era long gone.
Let's take a look:
As the old saying goes: "Money is the root of all evil." It seemed Ortiz wanted more of it after dismantling Shamrock the first time they clashed.
And why not? UFC 40 was the biggest event ever for the company. The pay-per-view (PPV) was a phenomenal success with more than 150,000 buys, while ticket sales brought in excess of $1.5 million at the gate.
After UFC 40, Ortiz and the UFC became embroiled in contract negotiations. "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy's" ace in the hole was his championship belt. And on top of Ortiz's monetary demands, he flat-out refused to fight Chuck Liddell. Ortiz said they were friends and had once agreed to never fight one another.
"Iceman," on the other hand, didn't recall that conversation.
Pop quiz, hotshot: You have a number one contender whose KO-friendly style has won the fans over and a champion who refuses to fight. What do you do?
If you're the UFC, you ask former heavyweight champion Randy Couture to drop down in weight to fight Liddell for the interim light heavyweight title. So at UFC 43, complete with a ridiculous intro video, Liddell walked down the ramp to finally take what was his.
At least, that was the plan. Randy Couture, however, had other plans.
Liddell was completely dominated and Couture won the upset at UFC 43. Suddenly and miraculously, Ortiz came to an agreement with UFC management and agreed to unify the titles at UFC 44 against "The Natural."
Why the sudden change of heart? Well, my guess is Ortiz was afraid of being knocked out by Liddell and instead jumped at the chance of fighting another wrestler who was 10 years his senior. That's my guess.
After a year of hiding behind agents, Ortiz became the cocky trash-talker everyone loved to hate. He told everyone who would listen that he wouldn't let an "old man" beat him. Couture again surprised everyone by manhandling the younger Ortiz for 25 minutes en route to a unanimous decision win.
Ortiz lost the belt. He lost his bargaining chip. And the only way back to it was through Chuck Liddell. And there was no getting around him. When the two finally met in the cage, it only took a little over one round for "Iceman" to put away Ortiz.
What followed next for the former champion was an uninspired win over a late replacement in Patrick Cote and an unconvincing victory over Vitor Belfort.
And just like that, the face of the UFC for so long was gone.
Meanwhile, his former foes -- Couture and Liddell -- along with a houseful of regional fighters shot the sport into the stratosphere. With the debut of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), MMA was finally poised to make the next step that had eluded it for so long.
And it was all without "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy."
But the Ortiz name was still worth something and there was money to be made. Both he and Dana White knew this nine months after he split from the promotion.
He was back, again, and who else was waiting for him but Ken Shamrock.
The two rivals were set to coach opposite each other during the third season of TUF, but first Ortiz had to get through Forrest Griffin.
Much like his fight with Frank Shamrock seven years prior, the fight represented the establishment versus the future. This time, however, Ortiz found himself on the other side of the spectrum. He represented the old guard now while Griffin was what the sport could be come.
"The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" earned the victory than night in a split decision. Ortiz was off to Vegas to film shortly thereafter.
The season of TUF he traded barbs with Ken Shamrock was one of the most entertaining. The talent pool had not yet been sucked dry so there was legitimate, molded fighters in the cast. Combine that with the fact that the former light heavyweight champion was a great coach and you had compelling television.
Meanwhile, Shamrock was abysmal as his team's guiding force and for the first time in a long time, fans began to rally behind Ortiz.
The two rematched at UFC 61 and a not-so controversial stoppage led to a third and final match between the two. Ortiz had battered him the first time they fought and steamrolled him the second. Despite all of Shamrock's complaints about the "unjust" stoppage, there was very little doubt of the outcome of the third fight.
After beating "The World's Most Dangerous Man" for the third time on a Spike TV special, Ortiz was now sitting on a five-fight win streak. A title shot was in order for the former champ. And not only did he get the opportunity to get his belt back, but he also had the chance to avenge his last loss.
Liddell was riding a wave of domination in the 205-pound division when he and Ortiz tangled for the second time. And despite "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" doing markedly better than in their first bout, the result was still the same:
"Iceman" via technical knockout (TKO).
Seemingly unable to contend for the title, Ortiz's career was in a bit of limbo. So the UFC decided to use him as it would any aging draw: Build new stars.
Fights with Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida saw the former champ go winless. A point deduction in the Evans bout for grabbing the fence skewed the scorecards into a draw. Ortiz -- had he not been penalized -- would have won the fight.
His fight with the Brazilian was another dominating performance by the Karate expert save for a last minute triangle attempt that nearly saw Ortiz pull off the upset.
If you already knew these details, I don't blame you. Ortiz will parrot them any chance he gets.
Stack up losses to Griffin and Matt Hamill and you've got a former champ who is known more for shacking up with a porn star than being a fighter.
Post-fight excuses like having a cracked skull or pulling out of scheduled bouts with Liddell and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira have replaced the once dominant champion who ran roughshod over the light heavyweight division not all that long ago.
Getting arrested for suspected domestic violence and having the story plastered all over TMZ is what Ortiz is now known for, not being the guy who outlasted Wanderlei Silva, decimated Evan Tanner, and took Frank Shamrock to the limit. A loss to Bader will likely end a long and storied career.
They say that history is written by the winners. Unfortunately for Ortiz, he hasn't won in a very long time.