Former champ Ortiz can still sell a fight

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – Tito Ortiz signed a new six-fight contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship in July.

But the one-time light heavyweight champion really knew that things had changed and his vitriolic feud with UFC president Dana White was a thing of the past in the fall, as he's watched various UFC highlight shows on Spike TV.

"Let me tell you, when I turn on Spike TV and watch the highlights, it's nice to see me beating people up for a change," Ortiz said, jokingly, Wednesday at a media workout in the Mandalay Bay Events Center as he finishes preparations for Saturday's rematch against Forrest Griffin at UFC 106.

"Before, I was always getting beat up and all. It's nice to be in the positive environment. It's just going to make me excel that much more. Fighting under a negative environment is hard. It's mentally, physically challenging and dreadful, man."

White was once Ortiz's manager, back in the days before White worked for the UFC, but the two had a falling out. Things got so bad between them that they were going to have a boxing match to settle their differences. Ortiz left the company after his loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 84 on May 24, 2008, when his contract expired and it appeared his days with the UFC were over.

There was controversy after the loss to Machida, as UFC officials originally weren't going to allow Ortiz to attend the UFC 84 post-fight news conference before they relented.

Ortiz and White exchanged sharp barbs in public, but even before the split, the animosity between them was apparent even to the most casual observers.

"It's one of those things where [I wondered], 'What's going to be said about me today? What's going to happen today?'" Ortiz said. "'Am I going to get a good room? Will I get my meal money? Am I going to have problems doing it? Are they going to make me do interviews all morning?' Now, it's nice to be in a positive environment. It's nice to be in the position I am now. I'm very, very thankful for how giving [UFC co-owners] Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta are and how much of a man Dana was for stepping up and becoming a friend again."

Despite all the hostility, Ortiz said he almost always believed he would return to the UFC and said much of the posturing that went on after his contract expired was negotiations. But he said there was a 2 percent chance that his UFC career had ended.

As the harsh feelings on both sides began to recede, Ortiz thought carefully about whether he wanted to fight in the UFC again, given all that had occurred. When he realized he did, he did what he had to do to make it happen.

"Time cures [emotional] pain," Ortiz said. "It started to get better and better and better and better and then we started talking. It took me a lot to suck it up. I had to suck up a little bit of pride to talk to Dana. And I think Dana had to suck up a lot of pride to talk to me, too. We're two pit bulls, man. You put two pit bulls in a room who are males and they're going to scrap, and that's just the way it is.

"He knows what he needs for his business and I know what I need for my business. As long as we collaborate and make ends meet, we want to make the best fights for the fans. That's what we're doing."

The reunion between White and Ortiz was arranged by Wayne Harriman, a mutual friend White had known long before he was involved with the UFC. Harriman approached White, then talked to Ortiz, pointing out that each needed the other.

They agreed to talk and met for the first time in White's Las Vegas office in July, the week of UFC 100.

"Let me tell you, man, when Tito walked in here and came into my office that day, man, I'm not kidding you, you could have cut the tension with a knife," White said. "Things were that intense. But Wayne started the stuff going back and forth and he broke the ice. Without Wayne, I doubt if this ever would have happened. When Wayne first approached me, he said some [expletive] that made some sense and that started things moving.

"Tito and I talked that day and things really just kind of picked up. The second time he came back, it was no secret that I didn't like him and he didn't like me, but we both felt we didn't need to like each other to do business. But this time, I have none of that. Everything between us is in the past."

Now that he has resolved his problems with management and has a stronger back coming off spinal fusion surgery, Ortiz said he wants to make another run at the title, which he held from 2000-03. It is still the longest single title reign in UFC history, though current middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who has held the title since Oct. 2006, is poised to break the mark.

He's added 2 1/2 inches of muscle to his legs and said he's explosive with his takedowns again. He vowed to batter Griffin, whom he defeated on a split decision in 2006.

"Let's see if Forrest can take the pounding," said Ortiz, who said he's trained for five six-minute rounds with just a 30-second break between rounds. "Let's see if he can defend the shot when he kicks. Every time he kicks, he's going to be taken down. A lot of fighters don't take advantage of that when they see Forrest kick. They try to check all the kicks. The hell with that. I'm putting him on his back. Back to the old Tito Ortiz, back when my ground and pound was lethal.

"The first round the last time, he barely survived to get out of it. Well, this time, if he survives the first round, the second round will be the same thing. If he lasts through that, the third round will be the same thing and they'll be taking him out on a stretcher."

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