Former light-heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz carved his name into the MMA books via big performances in and out of the UFC cage. There was a time when Ortiz was credited with keeping the UFC alive because of his fan base buying PPV events he fought on and his rivalry with Ken Shamrock is still one of the bitterest MMA has ever produced.
Now he has one fight left on his UFC contract and he swears it will be his last bout ever. This week he is Sweden for a ringside seat at the UFC on FUEL event taking place in Stockholm on Saturday night. Fighters Only caught up with him for a chat about his upcoming retirement fight, the TRT epidemic and UFC’s steady takeover of the mixed martial arts world…
FO: Thanks for the time Tito. Let’s start with the next fight - can you confirm it will be your last?
My next fight will be my last fight. I am going out on my own terms, I have had a long and illustrious career of fifteen years. I’m the longest-competing UFC fighter to date, most consecutive UFC appearances, most light-heavyweight title defences.
I am very thankful, when I look at my career, and I want to leave on my own terms. I am very happy with it; I want it to inspire people who have normal nine-to-five jobs, that they can achieve anything in this sport. I am proof of it.
FO: And that last fight will be with Forrest Griffin, correct? The contracts are now in place?
The last fight is Forrest Griffin, its on July 7 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand. I think everyone will be tuning in to watch my last fight and watch my hand get raised. I just gotta do the work, I’ve took myself up to Big Bear - which is a camp I haven’t been up to in the last couple of years - because its important that I do the right things to prepare for this fight so that when I leave I get my hand raised.
FO: There was a time you were basically credited with keeping the UFC alive because of your large fan base, which you spent a lot of time and effort cultivating. What do you think about the current scene, is there a lack of characters? Is everyone just an identi-kit athlete these days?
Well, I think the brand of the UFC has taken over everything. Each one of these fighters, they come in and they fight and that’s all they care about. They don’t care about making a brand of their names and I think they should focus on that. Don’t say no to interviews, go out and do as much PR as you can.
Part of doing that is saying what is on your mind, saying the truth - like I was doing for the last 15 years.
FO: Do you think that the UFC dominance of the sport, which began with the buyout of Pride FC and recently encompassed the Strikeforce buyout, has been a good or a bad thing?
Well, it has allowed them to bring Alistait Overeem over, Brock Lesnar came over, Anderson Silva came over from PRIDE… Rampage Jackson … so may guys that have done so well in other sports and now the UFC taken over, its the best of the best.
FO: Is Lesnar’s return to WWE a huge loss to the UFC?
No I don’t think so. Brock came in and did what he wanted to do, which was become a champion, and he left as one of the best heavyweights on the planet. Alistair Overeem stopped him on New Year’s Eve to show what a true athlete is about. Brock has his brand and he has done some great fights and won a world title with the UFC, now he’s moved on to bigger things with the WWE.
FO: Lesnar came into the UFC with a professional wrestling background and a 1-0 record. He then won the belt after going 1-1 in the UFC, becoming champ with a 3-1 record overall. Now he has returned to the WWE - does all that devalue the heavyweight belt?
Well I think his MMA background as wrestling, he was a collegiate wrestler, he wrestled in college and he was one of the best in the nation. As a collegiate wrestler myself, we learn quick and he learned quick and he became a world champion overnight. Literally in two fights he became world champion.
He learned a few things - he learned that through hard work and dedication he can become a world champion but he also learned that its not fun getting punched in the face.
FO: As you mentioned Overeem, let’s touch on the scandal that is presently threatening to engulf him. He failed a urine test administered in March and now the theory is that he will be claiming he was undergoing Testosterone Replacement Therapy, explaining his elevated levels. What do you think of all these fighters that are suddenly claiming to be testosterone-deficient?
You know I don’t know much about it at all. I have been fighting for 15 years and there have been trainers that tried to push that on me and I’ve said that if I have to do that kind of stuff, I am done with the sport, I wont compete any more because I want to be a natural athlete.
And I have - for fifteen years I’ve competed and taken my drug tests, random drug tests, and passed everything because I am a true athletle. A lot of these guys are taking these supplements to make themselves more impressive or whatever, to become the fighters they want to be.
That’s their choice - my recommendation is don’t do it. If its against the law or against the sport, don’t do it and if you do have to do it, don’t fight anymore. That’s just my take on it… I will leave it there, I wont go into it any further.
FO: Have you come across the campaign to have Mark Hunt installed as the title challenger if Overeem is pulled out of the May 26 fight?
I’ve had people tweet me saying ‘Mark Hunt for champion’ and stuff, yeah. I don’t know… Brock Lesnar had a chance, why not give Mark Hunt a chance? I’ve always been a big fan of his when he was in K-1, he’s one of the big names in the sport and he is doing well right now so all the luck in the world to him.
It would be an awesome fight and a cool story, plus striker vs. striker means that someone is definitely getting knocked out.
FO: If you were to pick an era as MMA’s ‘golden age’, what would it be - your rivalry with Shamrock, the UFC vs. Pride, the current era…?
You know, that’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask myself. I think the great rivalry between me and Shamrock would have to be the shining moment of my career because he sold the fight, I sold the fight and we came to fight time and we put on a show; the best athlete won.
I look at it now and the sport is just growing each and every day throughout the world. Fans love this sport and I love the fans.
FO: Do you think you are getting the respect you deserve?
You know, I think I am getting that respect. I’ve been an inspiration in people’s lives and through my career I have showed them that they can achieve anything. I have been through some major surgeries and I still make a spectacle each time I fight.
When it is fight time I am going to go in there and put on a show and the fans love me for that. I think my whole career has just been about motivating and inspiring people to know that you can achieve anything in this life as long as you set your goals high and never stop working to make it happen.
FO: When you started out, the UFC was really this fringe American thing but now it has a global presence and is ever-expanding its reach. You’re here in Sweden right now - what are your immediate thoughts on the fact that your earliest days in Huntingdon Beach have led you here right now?
I think Dana and Lorenzo have done a great job. They’ve worked really hard to give fighters an opportunity to fight across the world and become household names. Going to Japan, coming here to Sweden, going to Brazil… its just making the UFC a household name that everybody knows.
Like football - or here in Europe they call it ‘soccer’ - is number one sport in the world but I really think the UFC is becoming the number two sport in the world right now.
FO: Dana used to be your manager so you know him as well as anyone - do you think this schedule he has at the moment is going to be too much? He’s doing an insane amount of travelling, media and public speaking.
Not at all, I think Dana is made for this type of business, spreading the word of what UFC is about. It had that image of being a barbaric sport, two men enter one man leaves, but that image is long gone and now it is all about athletes, competing against each other to see who the best athlete is. Dana has worked hard to achieve that.
FO: Tito, thanks very much for the time. Any shout outs to leave us with?
I just want to say a big thank you to all the fans who have supported me over the years, and also plug my clothing website Punishment Athletics and my Twitter account @titortiz!