Tito Ortiz put an exclamation point on his legendary mixed martial arts career Saturday, reminding the crowd at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., and a national television audience of his greatness with one final victory.
On his 42nd birthday, Ortiz survived an early guillotine choke attempt to submit Chael Sonnen with a rear-naked choke at 2:03 of the first round in the main event of Bellator 170.
Ortiz, a member of the UFC Hall of Fame and one of the pioneers of the sport, had some anxious moments. But he was clearly far stronger than Sonnen and in the end essentially overpowered the man known as “The American Gangster.”
A one-time collegiate wrestler who 19 years ago to the day was pinned by Sonnen in the first round, Ortiz had his son, Jacob, perform a symbolic act and leave his red gloves in the center of the cage.
“Everyone, this will be the last time I will be in this cage,” Ortiz told the crowd. “So as we do in wrestling, you’d retire your wrestling shoes. Tonight, Jan. 21, 2017, I’m going to let my son lay these gloves down right here in the Bellator cage because this is the last time I’ll be fighting. Thank you guys for the support for 20 years.”
Ortiz is a former UFC light heavyweight champion who first won the title at UFC 25 in Japan on April 14, 2000, by defeating Wanderlei Silva. He’s been among the sport’s biggest names ever since.
He’s had more than his share of ups and downs. He feuded with UFC president Dana White and once was actually supposed to box White on Spike TV. He lost to arch-rival Chuck Liddell twice by knockout in major bouts, and suffered through a series of terrible injuries.
Toward the end, long past his prime, he struggled to win and was 1-7-1 in his final nine UFC fights. But a final neck surgery healed him, he said, and he signed a promotional deal with Bellator. And that seemed to give him the energy and motivation to make a sprint to the finish.
After opening his Bellator career with wins over Alexander Shlemenko and Stephan Bonnar, Ortiz challenged Liam McGeary for the Bellator light heavyweight title but was choked out in the first.
He then signed to face Sonnen and made the bout personal. And though Sonnen, who hadn’t fought in more than three years, was the favorite, Ortiz did everything he said he’d do.
He briefly got caught in the guillotine, but gave the thumbs-up sign to referee John McCarthy to signal he was OK as he tried to find a way out.
“I knew I could get my shot on Chael because he’s not super strong and I could fight my way out of [bad] positions,” Ortiz said.
And Ortiz, who always had an underrated ground game, broke free, got into mount and then quickly got Sonnen’s back. Ortiz was bigger and stronger and not fatigued, and so Sonnen had little way out. He tapped at 2:03 to give Ortiz the emotional victory.
He leaves the sport with a 19-12-1 overall MMA record. He was 16-8-1 in the UFC and 3-1 in Bellator. He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2012, ironically on the night that Sonnen challenged Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight belt.