Ortiz talks spinal surgery, Liddell

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Due to unique circumstances, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz was not allowed to reveal that he had major neck fusion surgery more than two months ago, that will keep him out of action until the latter part of this year.

But Ortiz said as soon as he is able, he wants his third match with Chuck Liddell.

"No more headaches, no more numbness," he said. I’ll be back. I’ll be ready by October of November, six months after the surgery."

Ortiz, talking on Thursday about the surgery publicly for the first time, noted he had a three-hour operation on March 15 by Dr. William Smith of Las Vegas, the same doctor who did his 2008 back surgery.

Ortiz had signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of his coaching gig on the current season of The Ultimate Fighter that he couldn’t talk about anything related to the show until after the episode aired. Regardless, after filming ended, it was heavily rumored that Ortiz had been injured and replaced as coach on the show toward the end of the season by Rich Franklin.

At first UFC President Dana White denied Franklin would face Liddell, insisting Ortiz vs. Liddell was still on for June 12 in Vancouver, B.C. But once tickets for the Vancouver show were put on sale, just a couple of weeks into the season, the advertised main event of Liddell vs. Franklin confirmed something was indeed amiss.

Wednesday night’s TUF episode showed Ortiz telling his team that he may need neck surgery, noting pain in his neck, numbness in his arms, and severe headaches. It also showed Liddell, when he got word from one of the fighters that Ortiz may pull out of the match, being furious, noting he predicted Ortiz would pull out of the fight, and that he’d had to put up with Ortiz for five weeks and now wasn’t getting a chance to get his frustrations out. The show ended with White telling Liddell that the fight was off and Liddell. Next week’s episode will feature Ortiz being replaced as coach by Franklin.

In reality, Ortiz said the situation developed over a period of more than a week. He said the neck issues dated back to being dropped on his head in training several weeks before his Nov. 21 fight with Forrest Griffin in Las Vegas, which he lost via split decision, leaving his record at 15-7-1.

He had to take two weeks off of training during what should have been his hardest period, saying he felt pressure not to cancel out since Brock Lesnar had already pulled out of the date, which elevated Ortiz's match to main-event status.

Ortiz did himself no favors at that time. Before the fight, he insisted he was back at 100 percent and injury free for the first time since he lost the light heavyweight championship to Randy Couture in 2003. After fighting Griffin evenly for two rounds, Ortiz gassed and become largely a punching bag in round three. Immediately after the match, he brought up a litany of injuries and a lack of training for the reason he faded badly down the stretch.

He said while it was not made public, he and Liddell had already agreed to be opposing coaches for the current season even before the Griffin fight took place. Ortiz noted between training and the fight, he was physically thrashed, with the neck problems, a concussion and a fractured orbital bone, and did nothing physical, trying to heal up before the six weeks of filming the reality show began in mid-January. He thought his painful headaches were related to the concussion and eye injury.

After a sparring session in mid-February, he said his neck problems flared up. After falling asleep on the couch, when he got up, he said he at first couldn’t walk.

"I was scared," he said.

He said he went to the doctor and was told his numbness was caused by a disc as well as bone spurs pressing against his spinal cord and surgery was recommended, particularly if he wanted to continue fighting. He was told in his current condition, the wrong kind of fall could lead to paralysis. He informed White immediately and over the next week, went to several more doctors, to see if there was an alternative, before dropping out of the fight.

He underwent a three-hour operation, which he noted the UFC took care of, and aside from being disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to finish the season as coach, had nothing negative to say about his employers. In surgery, Dr. Smith fused his C-6 and C-7 vertebrae and put in a plate and screws.

While there will be three weeks of shows with Franklin as coach, Ortiz said his decision to get surgery was made on Feb. 26, five days before filming of the season wrapped up on March 2. He said he was surprised and disappointed that he was then replaced as coach by Franklin with only a few days left, but understood where White was coming from.

"I thought the show was about finding new stars, but it’s also about building a match where the coaches fight," he noted.

Ortiz, 35, has five fights left on his current contract.

"I just hope that Chuck doesn’t get knocked out by Franklin and have to retire," he said. "I’m pain free for the first time since 2003, and ready to make another run at the championship."

Ortiz wouldn’t talk about his arrest on April 26 on a domestic violence charge regarding girlfriend Jenna Jameson, which led to him accusing her of having an addiction by Oxycontin. Both quickly dropped their claims and were back together a week later.

P.R. representative Rick Bassman only noted that Ortiz and girlfriend Jenna Jameson, and their twins, are back together living under the same roof.