Whether he wins or loses May 24 in Las Vegas against Lyoto Machida, it certainly appears Tito Ortiz will end his 11-year Ultimate Fighting Championship career. But there will be no televised celebration of his accomplishments when the fight is over.
UFC president Dana White will want it to end as quietly as possible, with Ortiz as an afterthought, and the crowning of the undefeated Machida as a new top star.
After years of a very public war between the promoter and one of his top stars, the UFC 84 fight essentially determines who gets in the last word.
"He's one of the most dishonest human beings I've ever met," White said. "I put up with him when he was a good fighter. He's not anymore. He's done. I'm no longer in the Tito Ortiz business."
"Dana White, when he was my manager, he was the one fighting with the owners at the time to get me more money," Ortiz said. "I'm just doing the things he was doing for me."
Ortiz has had more fights (21) in the octagon than any man in history. He was the longest-reigning champion in company history, a three-and-a-half year run as light heavyweight champion from 2000-03. And the Huntington Beach, Calif., native headlined the company's two most successful pay-per-view events in matches with Ken Shamrock (770,000 buys) and Chuck Liddell (1.05 million), and the company's highest rated television special (3.1), in a third match with Shamrock.
The war of words between the two is nothing new, as they've had issues since 2003, when UFC wanted to put together the first Ortiz vs. Liddell match and Ortiz claimed he didn't want to take the fight because the two were close friends and had an agreement not to fight each other (Liddell claimed there was no such agreement).
But the problems between White and Ortiz escalated in 2007 and have grown even worse in recent weeks as the story's apparent final act gets set to unfold.
Ortiz's contract expires with this fight. Things got so bad that Lorenzo Fertitta, the company's co-owner, and not White, was involved in trying to negotiate a new deal. But they couldn't come to terms.
"They told me I wasn't worth as much as I was in the past," Ortiz said.
Technically, there is a 30-day period after the contract expires where he can only negotiate with UFC, and then a period where UFC has the right to match any outside offer.
"I'm looking for something where I can be a promoter (as part of a contract with a new company)," said Ortiz, noting that would guarantee something the UFC wouldn't match and he'd be a free agent.
"There's not going to be any bidding war," White said. "Gary Shaw (promoter at Elite XC) should offer him $30 a fight, because we're not going to match it."
While money issues are a big part of the problems between the two, Ortiz conceded that the final six-fight deal Fertitta offered him was probably worth more than he would be able to get elsewhere. But he turned it down, wanting to be away from White.
"I think it's time to start a new chapter in my life," Ortiz said.
"This guy went on Howard Stern and said he was getting $200,000 a fight," White said. "That was such a lie. Tito made $5.8 million in 2006. He only fought once in 2007. He made $710,000 for that fight (with Rashad Evans) and that was the third match from the top (on the card). He goes around saying we made $231 million last year. He's a moron. This guy talks about what a businessman he is, and he was on 'The Apprentice' and he doesn't know the difference between revenue and profit."
Ortiz has been unhappy with White's public comments, in which the UFC president called both Ortiz and girlfriend Jenna Jameson, who had done some negotiating with UFC for him, "morons."
"He lied when he said he took me back (in 2006) because my wife called him up and begged him," Ortiz said. "I was negotiating with the WFA (the World Fighting Alliance, a rival organization that fell apart after one show; UFC purchased the remnants) and they brought me back on the terms that I wanted to keep me from going there."
"Kristen (Ortiz's wife at the time) called me," White said. "She was all upset and asked me to take him back. If he thinks it was about the WFA, look at what happened to the WFA. Rampage (Quinton Jackson) still bitches about them to this day. Ask B.J. Penn. Ask any of the guys who have left and have come back. The grass isn't always greener."
The 2006 contract also had a clause that the two would do a three-round boxing match. While the idea sounds ridiculous on the surface, White was a former amateur boxer and early in Ortiz's career, when he was still primarily a wrestler, they trained boxing together and at the time White was the better boxer.
A special on Spike TV that aired in April 2007 was portrayed as if Ortiz backed out of the match, which did no favors for his reputation or drawing power.
"The special was all about Dana White, flying around in Lear jets," Ortiz said. "We agreed to do a 50/50 split on revenues, but then he would never sign a bout agreement. I did all my medicals, just like a regular fight. Then they made it look like he was standing there at the weigh-ins and I didn't show up."
White said the boxing match was supposed to be private, until Ortiz talked about it with a reporter and suddenly interest escalated, but whatever money was to go to charity.
From a business standpoint, Ortiz in 2006 was pure gold. But in 2008, it's very much a question. Ortiz hasn't had a win against a true top opponent in years.
Even Ortiz's 15-5-1 record is interpreted completely different by both.
"In the last eight years, the only people who have beaten me are Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, two of the best fighters in the world," Ortiz said.
"Look at his record," White said. "When was the last time he beat a legitimate top contender? Forrest Griffin was right out of 'The Ultimate Fighter' and a lot of people think Griffin won that fight. You have to go back to Vitor Belfort (in early 2005). He's not ranked in anyone's top 10."
Ortiz said the difference is for the first time in five years, his back problems, which hampered his formerly explosive takedown shots, is healed.
"I feel 100 percent," he said. "I was 60 to 70 percent when I fought Rashad (Evans) and Chuck. I didn't have to get injections in my back two weeks before the fight like with Evans. I'm wrestling the way I used to wrestle for the first time in years."
And even White concedes Ortiz can help them and come across as a top star on the outside.
"He'll probably dominate, because he won't be fighting the same level of competition," he said. "Kimbo Slice? Three months ago he was fighting in your backyard."
Ortiz feels he's got several potential big fights outside of the UFC.
"There's a rematch with Randy Couture, a rematch with Frank Shamrock, and maybe (heavyweights) Kimbo Slice or Fedor Emelianenko," he said. "Yes, they are (except Shamrock) heavyweights, but we can fight at a catch weight. Babalu (Renato Sobral) is another one. I have three or four years left."
It's no secret why UFC booked Machida, 12-0, a highly respected but uncharismatic relative unknown to the casual UFC fans, as Ortiz's last opponent. The expectation is Machida would get a win over a huge name opponent, and hopefully become a star in the process, and become someone who can draw if challenging for the marquee light heavyweight title.
The match has more intrigue within the MMA world than any fight in a long time, because Machida is seen as White's surrogate fighter, and the question becomes, if Ortiz wins, what will he do, and what will he say, in his final interview. Or will White allow him a final interview?
"He did not want to fight Machida," White said. "He ranted and raved to (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva about it. "I can't do anything about the matches once they're in the cage. Everyone knows my feelings for Chuck Liddell, but when he's in the cage, there's nothing I can do and either he wins or he loses. But this time, I want to see Machida win. But if Tito knocks Machida out, I'm still out of the Tito Ortiz business."