Back at Bellator 123 in early September, the strangeness of the current feud between Stephan Bonnar and Tito Ortiz began to take origin.
The two light heavyweights and former UFC standouts were going to square off inside the Bellator cage in Uncasville, Conn., to promote their fight at Bellator 131 that was just announced earlier that night (Sept. 5, 2014). A staredown is far from uncommon in MMA history, but when Bonnar was accompanied by an anonymous, masked henchman, all bets were off.
Suddenly, the cage became a throwback to an 80's version of Piper's Pit in the old WWF days and the shenanigans ensued. And Tito was thinking the same thing we were all thinking: What the f**k is going on?
"As soon as he started talking I was like 'what the hell is this guy doing right now? He is blowing this way out of proportion,'" Ortiz told MMAmania.com ahead of tomorrow night's (Nov. 15) fight at The Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California. "You could see a fakeness to him and I was just like 'Okay, here we go. This guy is going to say something super stupid and it is going to turn off a bunch of fans and I don't know who this guy is in the mask.' I was like 'What is going on right now?'"
The big reveal was Justin McCully, an old training partner for Ortiz, who most people didn't know or didn't care to remember. While people were still scratching their heads at the bizarre scene unfolding (watch the replay here), in the same way you watch an awful Saturday Night Live skit, the festivities continued as Bonnar insulted Ortiz and dug into his personal life with insults about his ex-girlfriend and former adult movie actress Jenna Jameson.
"When they revealed Justin I was like 'Oh cool, that means you are not going to be training hard. Right on,'" he said. "That isn't going to hurt me, but then when he started talking about my ex I said 'Excuse me? Do you even know what the situation was?' Things were going on in my head and I couldn't even talk right, I was so mad. It was like... I watched the movie Python when I was younger when he sees red. I was seeing red and I wanted to attack. I'm on national television. I know I'm in the casino. I know Bellator people are here and I have to watch myself but I had to get my hands on him one way or another. A shoving match started. I shoved him and they grabbed me. I was like 'I want to kill this guy. He doesn't know what he is doing.'
"It lit a fire under my ass. It got me pissed, which was good. He wanted to get in my head. Well he got in my head, it's perfect. He was able to stir up emotions that haven't been stirred up in a long time. It wasn't hard to train. It was easy to get up every single day and put in the work I've done. I'm fighting for my family. I'm fighting for my fans. I'm fighting for some respect here for this guy talking trash. It fueled me. It made me really, really pissed. I'm going to shut him up. We are a week away. I don't have to say anything else. I just can't wait to fight and punish this guy."
The angle from Bonnar definitely seemed out of thin air and a bit contrived, but he succeeded in pissing Ortiz off. The two were never matched up against one another in the UFC, and they had no prior incidents while they were in the promotion. At least not anything that was brought to the public's attention. The former UFC light heavyweight champion was asked if they ever crossed paths behind the scenes or had any verbal scraps.
"No, never. We never crossed paths," said Ortiz, who defeated Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko in a light heavyweight bout after almost a two-year absence.
"There were a few of my fans that went and got pictures with him and they asked him about me and he said 'Tito is a swell guy.' All of a sudden he built some hatred out of nowhere and I didn't understand it and it didn't make any sense. Maybe it was Dana talking in his ear. I think that happened right when I was getting ready to sign with Bellator. He was like 'Tito is fighting in Bellator because he needs money and he is afraid to fight me here in the UFC.' It was them trying to get me back in the UFC, which I wasn't going because I was sick of getting bullied by them. So when I signed to Bellator, I thought of a way to get Bonnar over to Bellator and they made it happen and he is fighting here. He is a clueless guy and he doesn't know that he has been baited. I can't wait for this weekend to put my hands on him."
Yes, Ortiz is suggesting some of the coaches in Bonnar's camp are actually spies under his employ. That is almost as ridiculous to believe as Bonnar's antics in the cage at Bellator 123 were to watch. But we can all take it with a grain of salt and play along. Can't we?
That being said, what is a fact, is that "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" is very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of those who are currently working with "The American Psycho," McCully and Paul Herrera. Ortiz was adamant that Bonnar won't be gaining any type of advantage by working with them, because you can find anything out about him by watching any of his old fights.
In his eyes, it will boil down to if Bonnar can stop him or not.
"I know a few of the guys he has trained with," Ortiz explained. "Justin, of course, I know everything he knows. Paul Herrera, I know everything he does. I know the guys that he wrestled with. This guy is trying to get secrets on me. You want secrets on me? Go watch some of my old fights. It hasn't changed. Nothing has changed at all. Maybe I punch harder. Maybe I have more submission skills, but nothing has changed. Can he find someone to replicate my style? No way. He can't find a training partner to replicate my style. Not my speed, not my strength, nothing."
"Let's see if he can withstand the abuse I'm going to give him on the ground. He's like ‘Oh you are going to take me down and I'm going to get right back up and punch you in the face.' I want to see him get out from underneath me. That is going to be impossible. I can give credit to Forrest Griffin. He was able to get back up because he has trained with guys like Randy Couture, who were impossible to get out from under. That is the only reason he was able to get out from under me. Bonnar couldn't get out from underneath from Mark Coleman. What makes him thing he is going to get from under me?"
It wasn't too long ago that Ortiz was set to face Quinton Jackson in what would have been his Bellator debut last November at Bellator 106. But a neck injury forced him to withdraw and many felt his MMA future was in jeopardy. Former Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney made the severity level of the injury and risk of further injury upon coming back, very clear at the time.
After surgery and rehab, Ortiz put a rest to any discussion he should have stayed retired by dominating Shlemenko at Bellator 120 and locking up a side-triangle choke for the victory and dusting off his gravedigger post-fight celebration.
So how is his health these days?
"Everything is good," said Ortiz, who is entering his second fight in the last six months and hasn't fought twice in the same calendar year since 2011. "I think that was being oversold by Bjorn. I think Bjorn was trying to cover his ass because after I got the stem cell injections into my neck, the bone healed 100 percent and Bjorn was just trying to cover his ass. Camp looked great for the Shlemenko fight. I was training six days a week, twice a day. Continuing on with this camp, I got actually nine weeks training for this camp instead of only four for the Shlememko fight. Everything has gone perfect. Everything has gone the way I wanted it to. Cardio is great. I'm doing five, six-minute rounds with 30 seconds rest. I'm ready to go to war and this fight is only 15 minutes of battling to see if Bonnar can keep to the tempo I am going to keep at him. We get three five-minute rounds. I'm going to see if he can keep at that tempo of 100 percent the whole time."
Ortiz, 39, said he has done more interviews on the day he spoke with MMAmania.com than he did for the entire lead up to the Shlememko fight, and that, he says, is due to Scott Coker and the new regime that have taken over. "Scott knows what he's doing. He understands putting the right people in the right positions to do the right job. Everybody at Spike and at Bellator do an amazing job just as long as they are pointed in the right direction and I think Scott has a lot to do with that. He did such a great job with Strikeforce and he will probably do the same thing here."
Media obligations are nothing new to him. He has grown accustomed to them the last 17 years. Ortiz says it is "like therapy" for him and it's the "easy part," compared to training. "Everything else is just the icing on top. The hard part is training, plain and simple," he said.
Should Ortiz pull out the gravedigger celebration once again if he defeats Bonnar, there are plenty of interesting match ups that await him. "Rampage" Jackson for one, since the first fight was scrapped due to the former UFC champion's neck injury. And the current Bellator light heavyweight champion, Emanuel Newton. Ortiz is interested in a couple of match ups and obviously wants a shot at the gold, but he is focused on getting his hands on Bonnar at Bellator 131 in San Diego first.
"Of course Rampage is one, but the world title is my main goal," said Ortiz on future fights. "All I have right now is this fight. It's all about this fight. I have five more days and then I can start worrying about what is next. But right now it's just strictly Bellator 131 free on Spike TV, this Saturday night. That is my job to entertain the fans that have been watching and get a couple of extra lickings in for my fans."
If Ortiz did one day hoist the Bellator light heavyweight title he would be the first fighter to win both the UFC and Bellator light heavyweight championships. And at his age that would be a remarkable accomplishment.
"That is my goal," he said. "I have six world titles hanging inside my office. I would love to add one more, and to finish off with the Bellator world championship would be awesome."