Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, 44, will collide with ex-World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) titleholder Alberto Del Rio, 42, in the Combate Americas pay-per-view (PPV) main event tomorrow night (Sat., Dec. 7, 2019) inside Payne Arena in Hidalgo, Texas.
Those accomplishments are important to note because Ortiz will be forced to hand over his UFC belt if he loses to Del Rio, just as “The Pride of Mexico” will relinquish his WWE strap should he come up short in “The Lone Star State.” It’s sort of like the dreaded “pink slip” in drag racing.
From a competitive standpoint, I’m not convinced this 210-pound catchweight fight would get licensed under stricter regulation, like you might find at Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). Ortiz is a decorated mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran but more importantly an active fighter, competing as recently as Nov. 2018.
Del Rio, real name Alberto Rodriguez, has not fought since a technical knockout loss to Mamoru Yamamoto nearly a decade ago in Madrid. The time he did spend in MMA yielded a 9-5 record with six submission wins, as well as a highlight-reel loss to PRIDE legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic back in late 2003.
As a result, Ortiz (20-12-1) is a huge betting favorite for this weekend’s grudge match, and I use that term loosely. Most of the heat behind their rivalry comes from a “USA vs. Mexico” spat that started with our “Bare Bones” interview last month in New York. Prior to this bout, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” had no affiliation with Del Rio, a longtime fixture at Combate Americas.
“We call the event ‘What Side Are You On?’ for a lot of different reasons,” Combate Americas CEO, Campbell McLaren, told AXS TV. “There’s obviously the political overtones. I spent a day and a half going and doing every show on Fox [News] with Tito. We certainly saw the political side of that. I also think ‘What Side Are You On?’ can also mean WWE vs. UFC. We got a WWE champ and a UFC champ. So I think there’s a lot of aspects to this.”
I’m not going to pretend to be one of those MMA purists who looks down his nose at this wacky match up, which would have been right at home under the PRIDE banner. One of the things that hurts Del Rio is also one of the things that makes this fight so intriguing. There’s no telling what to expect from the former pro wrestler once the cage door closes in Hidalgo.
We know he can grapple ... but can he strike? What about his conditioning? Or his chin?
“Anybody that has an eye and understanding of fighting knows that Alberto is fighting an uphill battle,” former Ortiz rival, Ken Shamrock, told AXS TV. “There’s no question. But, some of the things that I have seen form Alberto almost reminds me sometimes of when I was growing up, living in the street, having to struggle to get from here to there, fighting for everything that you can get. To me, that bids well for him going into the fight, knowing that he’s willing to do whatever he needs to do to try to win this fight. Which means even probably taking a whole lot of punishment, trying to get into the later rounds, and possibly catching Tito when he’s wearing out.”
With Ortiz, what you see is what you get. It’s the same “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” we’ve seen countless times and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Expect him to stand and trade for as long as he needs to and if things get dicey on the feet, he’ll implement his wrestling game and powerful ground-and-pound.
I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that Ortiz is expected to win and rightly so. He’s also been dealing with injuries for most of his career and has been known to lay an egg in the big spot. Is that enough to think Del Rio has a shot? I never say “never” in this crazy sport, but I think this bout sticks to the script. Ortiz keeps it interesting until pride yields or instincts take over, and once this fight hits the ground, that’s a wrap.
For much more on Combate Americas click here.