LAS VEGAS – It was, perhaps, a fitting end to Tito Ortiz's career.
"The People's Champ" didn't win Saturday in the finale of his illustrious run at the MGM Grand Garden. Forrest Griffin outworked, outpunched and outkicked the gassed Hall of Famer for a unanimous decision win in the co-main event of UFC 148.
But the decision, which was booed loudly by the crowd of 15,016, in no way diminishes Ortiz's legacy. He was beaten, but that happened in seven of his nine finale fights. It was the case when he took on Frank Shamrock, Chuck Liddell (twice) and Randy Couture. And it was the case the last time he fought Griffin, when he lost by split decision.
When you fight a legend virtually every time you climb into the Octagon, you're going to lose a few fights. He fought Hall of Famers like Liddell and Couture in bouts that were among the most significant in the sport's history. He took on Frank Shamrock, who was one of the dominant fighters in the UFC's early years. No matter who he faced or how it went, he always got back up, and he always put on a show – inside and outside the Octagon.
He did the same thing Saturday, following his rubber match with Griffin, a bout in which Ortiz was firing haymakers until the final bell that completely won over the crowd. After the disappointing loss, Ortiz picked himself right back up, gave props to his opponent and displayed the same colorful attitude he's known for.
"I put in the work ‐ no excuses," Ortiz said. "I was at 100 percent. In my mind I was ready to fight. But Forrest was good, Forrest was tough. He came in to fight. I thought me dropping him would give me more points but I wasn't looking for points – I was looking to knock him out, try to take him down and beat the [expletive] out of him."
The guy ushered the UFC from, as Dana White puts it, the "days of the Wild, Wild West" into the sports juggernaut it is today. He's had more bouts than any other fighter in UFC history, and his rivalries – with Liddell in particular – have delivered some of the promotion's biggest audiences and most memorable moments. He's bridged the gap, from one generation of mixed martial arts to another, and for that, everyone should be grateful.
White and Ortiz have certainly had a contentious relationship over the years, to say the least, but the UFC president could do nothing but praise his former-client-turned-adversary-turned-respected-employee when it was all over.
"There were a group of guys that were incredibly loyal to this company, to me and everything else," White said. "Tito absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. The battle between me, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell and all the things that went down are part of the history of this company and part of the sport. Some of that drama and some of that excitement helped us get where we are today. As mad as we get at each other and all the things that have happened, you can't deny it."
Love him or hate him – and there are plenty of haters – MMA fans have long appreciated Ortiz for his willingness to put on a show, record be damned (16-11-1).
It was no different in the Octagon after his three-round battle with Griffin, when the crowd lauded him one final time.
His impact is perhaps greater than anybody associated with the UFC brand not named White or Fertitta, and that's not lost on Ortiz. Never one to shy away from bombast, he came to the ring in a shirt that read, "I helped build the sport that built me."
"I fought with my heart, I fought with my soul," Ortiz said. "I fought the way I wanted to fight. I gave everything out there … every one of my [28 fights], I think I made the fans happy. I fought my ass off every time. I have no regrets."
And yet, some of the luster was taken off the swan song in Ortiz's mind after Griffin's bizarre post-fight antics. The veteran sprinted out of the cage at the final bell and before the decision was read, only to be tracked down by White himself and ordered back into the Octagon. Then, Griffin proceeded to interview Ortiz himself instead of allowing UFC commentator Joe Rogan the opportunity to send Ortiz into retirement in proper fashion.
"It was [expletive]," Ortiz said of Griffin taking the microphone. "I've been in this sport a lot longer. You have to understand, 15 years ago, May 3, 1997, Joe Rogan was the first person to interview me, and I told him, ‘I'm going to make a mark in this sport.’ It was my first fight. I said, ‘Just you wait. I'm going to make my mark in this sport.’ I helped build this sport to be what it is to this day.
"For Forrest to step in and do what he did, after running?"
Ortiz paused for awhile to let the words sink in. "I can't complain about anything. As I said, I wish Joe Rogan got to interview me."
Fans shared Ortiz's sentiment immediately after the fight, booing Griffin for taking the spotlight away from Ortiz.
Griffin, for his part, appeared to understand his routine was out of line.
"I sincerely apologize," Griffin said at the post-fight press conference. "I don't know what I was thinking. I sincerely apologize. I'm sorry."
It meant a lot to Ortiz to get one final fight against Griffin, and the former light heavyweight champ was clearly disappointed with the outcome of the fight that brought closure to one of his many classic rivalries.
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Some critics have pointed to Ortiz's record and scoffed at his inclusion in the Hall of Fame, noting the high number of losses. What they don't say is that the majority of those feats came after knee, neck and back surgeries robbed him of his explosiveness. And they fail to not mention that most of the losses were when Ortiz was well past his prime.
"This is a young man's game," White said, tacitly acknowledging Ortiz made the right move in stepping away at age 37.
Of course, that record doesn't show the countless hours of interviews Ortiz has done over the past 15 years. It doesn't show the hype machine – the banter, build-up, trash talk – that Ortiz delivered consistently just by simply being himself. It doesn't show the lengths he's gone in advancing the sport of MMA or the UFC by going out of his way to be more accessible – to both fans and the media alike.
Tito Ortiz may have lost Saturday, but his name will be etched into UFC lore forever.
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