It's a question that isn't that hard for many fans to answer considering all of the outlandish and ridiculous quotes from Tito Ortiz that we've seen over the last couple of years. From completely fumbling the commentating duties at Affliction: Day of Reckoning to telling fans about how he wants to fight Fedor, most fans blithely sweep away any thoughts that Ortiz could truly become relevant once again.
Interestingly enough, some of Ortiz's past performances in the UFC do spin some positivity into the answer to the question. Some fans would mention the fact that he was one of the only fighters to put current UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida into any real danger during his run toward the title. Other fans would point out that he had former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans beat in their matchup at UFC 73 until he grabbed the fence and received a point deduction. If Ortiz had not received the deduction, we probably wouldn't be talking about Rashad Evans as a former champion right now, but rather a possible contender.
While I wouldn't put a huge amount of emphasis on those bouts as a sure sign that Ortiz can come back into the fight game and instantly vault himself into relevancy, there are a few factors that could add to the possibility that Ortiz will, in fact, regain a dominating position in the rankings.
First and foremost, Ortiz hasn't been healthy in quite a long time. Specifically, his back has been a major component as to why he's claimed his performance has dropped off. We've all heard the stories about how it has hindered his training and kept him out of the sport, but there are quite a few fans who truly believe Ortiz's claims are simply excuses.
I'd be more inclined to believe that Ortiz's style could be the problem when looking back on those fights, and it isn't hard for someone to do a little research into his past reign in the UFC to see why. Ortiz's wrestling ability coupled with his strength was a staple of his skill set, and even though he has managed to change his style in bigger matchups to suit a more "exciting" battle, Ortiz hasn't added much to his skill set. That's a huge problem when we see the guys at the top having very dynamic skill sets that include not only wrestling, but boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
In retrospect however, a healthy Tito Ortiz with solid take downs and strength can be a formidable opponent to anyone currently outside the UFC, and many of the fighters making their way up into the upper-echelon of the UFC's own division.
With all of that said, Ortiz will still remain relevant as a fighter who can draw in fans. Reportedly, Ortiz is in talks with Strikeforce regarding his return to the sport with a 100% healthy back. I believe this is a solid acquisition if Strikeforce can swing his salary because he will have a broad fanbase in California, a state that Strikeforce tends to hold events, and he also peaks casual fan interest. He'll also be able to headline events for the promotion, and his self-promotion is relentless. He'll create animosity and controversy out of thin air if it will sell more tickets and grab more viewers.
Does that mean he can battle back into relevancy as a top-notch light heavyweight in the world? It's possible, but many questions remain unanswered about his health and skills in the cage. If he was truly hurt in the past, a 100% Tito Ortiz can only perform even better, and that brings up questions as to whether he could have dominated Rashad Evans with a fully healthy back. I don't believe he would have defeated Lyoto Machida, but I'm interested to see how he could fair against anybody that Strikeforce could bring in to fight him.
Fighters like Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Mike Whitehead, or even potentially Vladimir Matyushenko could be opponents for Ortiz in Strikeforce, and if Strikeforce could leverage some of Afflction's talent like Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, I'd be more than willing to watch those two battle it out in the cage. I wouldn't mind seeing some sort of catchweight bout with Vitor Belfort as a rematch of their UFC 51 battle either.
Winning some of those fights would put him back into the top ten rankings, albeit just barely. The most interesting part about the potential deal with Strikeforce is that the UFC has the chance to match the deal, so we may see Ortiz back in the UFC as well. That'd be a much more promising endeavour for him if he truly intends to make an impact in the division, but I wonder if Ortiz is simply looking for a payday without actually taking on top competition. It wouldn't surprise me.