From the first time I came across it -- in an article about bodybuilding I believe -- I've never been a fan of the cliche that states the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
As far as I'm concerned, someone whose physique reaches a plateau after falling into a repetitive workout routine isn't insane. A half naked man, clad in nothing but a kilt made of Oscar Meyer cold cuts, who stands on the sidewalk in subzero temperatures and preaches to passersby about how embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is really an oracle revealing coded messages from Alpha Centauri about the impending apocalypse?
Now, that is what I call insane.
Still, despite my pedantic aversion to it, I couldn't help but be reminded of the oft-repeated, if not overly veracious, definition of insanity when I saw that Tito Ortiz may actually be thinking of attempting a return to active mixed martial arts (MMA) competition, presumably sometime later this year.
Longtime MMA aficionados may remember Ortiz dominating Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) light heavyweight division nearly a decade and a half ago. Those of you who hopped on board the UFC Express during the first few seasons of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) probably got your introduction to "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" by watching him toss around a past-his-prime Ken Shamrock with the ease of an overnight stock clerk pitching out cartons of expired milk.
But for fans who started following the sport after 2007, Ortiz is just that bleached blond, washed-up legend who never failed to find an excuse for any of his none too infrequent losses.
During the later years of his career, an Ortiz fight followed as route and predicable a pattern as a Disney movie. Only instead of watching an underdog hero overcome long odds in order to live happily ever after like in a children's cartoon, MMA fans were treated to the dispiriting spectacle of watching the former champ rack up another "L" on his once-sterling record, before inevitably revealing he had blown a ligament in his knee or injured his back training for the fight.
Which is why it was such a relief when Ortiz announced his retirement ahead of his UFC 148 rubber match against Forrest Griffin. It's also why it was such a bummer when the self-styled "People's Champion" put an early end to that retirement in order to sign a contract with Bellator MMA.
Of course it would prove to be a non-issue, as Ortiz was forced to pull out of his match-up against fellow ex-UFC champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson -- originally scheduled as the main event of Bellator's inaugural pay per view (PPV) event -- due to an injury to his already fragile neck. Bellator may have been forced to cancel its PPV and reschedule the show on Spike TV because of Ortiz's injury, but if there was any silver lining, it was that MMA's Humpty Dumpty looked to finally be done with the sport that has ravaged his body over the years.
And make no mistake about it, Ortiz may still have the jacked physique of 29 year-old stud athlete, but underneath all that muscle lies eggshell bones and tracing paper ligaments that have been through roughly 17 years of punishment -- which, ironically enough, has become a brand name synonymous with the erstwhile "Bad Boy."
It would be one thing if it were merely a case of Ortiz staking his ability to walk up a flight of stairs without feeling like an arthritic septuagenarian on what, from all accounts, would be a guaranteed huge payday per the terms of his Bellator contract. However, it's an entirely different set of stakes when, according to Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney's account of a warning from Ortiz's doctor, paralysis could result from "the right kind of drop on the head, or the right kind of impact on the spine" inside the cage or in training.
That's where the trite quip about the definition of insanity comes in. Given Ortiz's track record of injury over the better part of the past 10 years, and the dire consequences he's potentially facing, it seems downright crazy to think he would once again attempt to put his shopworn body through the rigors of another training camp. We all know how this story ends from past experience, so shouldn't Ortiz?
Well, yes, he probably should.
But who's to say he doesn't realize, somewhere deep down inside, that this isn't a good idea? Could it be the very obsessive drive that once made him a champion is still churning away, forcing him to make yet another effort at returning to his winning ways, despite ample evidence that it's all but impossible at this stage in his life? Isn't it, not to follow in the footsteps of Charles Dickens' immortal Wilkins Micawber and put too fine a point on it, downright insane for a man who turns 39 today (Jan. 23, 2013) to try and return to a heyday that is almost a decade behind him?
The answer to this question lies somewhere in the murky middle ground between the brand of craziness favored by foxes and that known for plaguing loons. Most successful fighters -- heck, most highly successful people -- have an unquenchable thirst for the laurels of victory, one that motivates them to keep kicking ass as long as there are asses left to be kicked. These types' obsessive drive can appear downright pathological at times, but, hey, it gets the job done, right?
However, when that drive is misdirected at a target one can no longer hit? Then it turns malignant. For aging fighters this usually takes the shape of an inability to let go of the sport that defined them for much of their adult life. Often this results in the fighter taking undo abuse in his later years; abuse that can have a detrimental impact on his quality of life.
It would be a shame to see this happen to someone who has meant as much to the history of MMA as Ortiz has. Here's hoping that over the coming months he can finally exorcise the ghosts of glories that are never coming back, and begin to re-channel his competitive drive into endeavors that won't further punish his already thrashed body.
It may be insane to believe a broken down Ortiz can end his career with a Cinderella-story comeback in a sport that passed him by a long time ago, but it's not out of the realm of possibility a financially-secure 39 year old couldn't find plenty to enjoy in life after fighting.