Tito Ortiz was the UFC's poster boy more than a decade ago, when members of Congress were making rumblings about banning it, no pay-per-view distributor would dare touch it and Dana White was a hotel bellman trying to figure a way to break into boxing.
Now, with White as its president, the UFC is so popular that one of its fighters landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, its pay-per-view sales in 2006 eclipsed those of the WWE and boxing and it breaks attendance records in most venues it visits.
Ortiz still remains one of the sport's primary draws, along with heavyweight champion Randy Couture and ex-light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell.
Even after a lengthy feud with White, which culminated in a humiliating special on Spike TV in which it appeared that Ortiz had backed out of a planned boxing match between them, his popularity hasn't waned.
The UFC has plastered his face on billboards around the country promoting his fight at UFC 73 on July 7 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif., against unbeaten Rashad Evans, despite there being two championship matches on the card.
"I've worked my butt off over the last 10 years for the UFC to get it where it is today," Ortiz said. "I was the main poster boy when they were in the dark ages. When they were $40 million down, I was the guy pushing the company and being articulate in all my speeches and my interviews.
"It's kind of been a process of educating the people on what the sport really is. People were so used to hearing it called 'human cockfighting' or seeing bar brawling with no rules, that they just were horrified by it. But I went out and educated the fans to try to help the company and to try to build this sport."
Ortiz doesn't confine his battles to the Octagon, though. He's openly feuded with White, his one-time manager and major nemesis, over his contract and has spoken out against what he believes are "ridiculously low" fighter salaries. He insisted in his contract renewal he signed in 2006 that he get to fight White in a boxing match.
He makes his money, though, as one of the world's elite mixed martial artists and points out proudly that since 2000, his only losses are to Randy Couture, who holds the UFC's heavyweight title, and Liddell, its long-time light heavyweight champion.
Ortiz said he made $4 million total from the UFC in four fights in 2006. He pointed out that boxers Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. made more than $20 million apiece for their May 5 fight.
He once held out for nearly a year and White concedes "we have a very colorful history together, not all of it good."
Ortiz complained that the UFC hasn't promoted him properly and said it's not an accident.
"They're not doing a lot of things to promote me, which is fine," Ortiz said. "That's the way the UFC wants to do it. That's the way they want to hold me down so that when it comes to negotiation time, they can say, 'Look, nobody wants to watch you any more. Nobody wants to see you.'
"It's a negotiation tactic on their part. They've done it before and I know they're going to do it again."
White despises talking about fighter salaries and has made his feelings so well known that it's had a chilling effect on fighters. They recognize White's almost complete autonomy in running the company and are unwilling to cross him by complaining publicly about their pay.
Ortiz, though, has never hesitated to complain about salary and said he's made it an issue publicly to try to help other fighters.
White called Ortiz selfish and said he's only out to help himself. He said Ortiz made well more than $4 million in 2006, though he wouldn't say how much more. Ortiz had two wins over Ken Shamrock and one over Forrest Griffin as well as a year-ending knockout loss to Liddell.
"It shows you how stupid he is because he doesn't even know how much money he's made," White said. "And he made a lot of that for beating up on Shamrock."
White also scoffed at the notion that Ortiz isn't being promoted properly and pointed out that his face adorns a billboard in New York's Times Square, alongside the I-15 freeway at one of the busiest intersections in Las Vegas and all throughout Southern California.
"There's a billboard of his big ugly gorilla face at the busiest point in Las Vegas," White said, "where it can scare kids who are riding by in their cars. Guess whose ugly head is on our billboard in Times Square?
"He's a moron: A complete and total moron. His whole career, he's stepped over a dollar to pick up a dime. I'm sick of him. It's time he started beating up someone other than a nearly 50-year-old Ken Shamrock."
White also said the UFC has an ad set to run in USA Today on July 6 which has a picture of the lightweight and middleweight title belts that are up for stake at UFC 73 on the top half of the ad and has Ortiz' and Evans' faces on the bottom of it.
"Does that sound to you like we're ignoring him or not promoting him?" White said. "I'll tell you what it is, it's more proof, as if anybody needed any, that Tito is a moron."
Ortiz said he won't let White shunt him aside, though, and said he believes that in two years, he'll be at the Big Bear, Calif., training camp that he purchased from De La Hoya for $2.1 million, preparing to defend his title.
He's engaged in a string of trash talk with Evans, a former wrestler at Michigan State, and said he's the better wrestler.
"I keep hearing all this talk about how Rashad is a great wrestler and is going to outwrestle me and this and that," Ortiz said. "But he was just a mediocre wrestler in college. He was .500. That's it.
"But this isn't a wrestling match. It's a fight and we'll see if he can back up all this talk he's been doing. I know I can, because I've proved it over the years. He's coming to the big leagues now. He's not fighting Sam Hogar any more. We'll see how he does with the real thing."
- Tito Ortiz
- Dana White
- Rashad Evans