It should come as no surprise "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" and former UFC light heavyweight king Tito Ortiz's career as a UFC fighter is in peril, according to UFC President Dana White. Ortiz has not plainly won a fight since 2006. Worse, he's still reliant upon a skill set that's suited more towards a 2005 MMA game. But Lyoto Machida? The man hastily crowned as the next UFC light heavyweight king? Believe it or not, White says Machida is on thin ice, too. Matt Erickson has the details:
Machida will fight UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, a former two-division champion, at UFC 129 in Toronto in April. A loss to Couture would be three straight for the Brazilian – which often signals a quick release from the UFC.
"He's had two losses in a row," White told the troops. "Right after he won the title, (UFC on-air analyst Joe) Rogan said this is 'The Machida Era,' and I thought so too. Then Shogun beat him, and then he just lost to Rampage. Now he's fighting Randy Couture in Toronto – and this is a must-win for him."
In addition, White said Ortiz, once one of the most dominant champions in UFC history, could be reaching the end of his career. Ortiz is scheduled for a main event fight on the UFC's Fight Night 24 card in Seattle in March against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
"Tito's got to win this fight to stay in the UFC," White said. "If he loses this fight, he'll probably retire."
All of this is a plain reminder about not only how cutthroat the UFC's current talent retention policy is, but just how generally precarious the careers of fighters can be. Ortiz has been running on good will and borrowed time for what feels like an eternity now, so a loss to Rogerio Nogueira would hardly be surprising. A subsequent retirement should he lose would also not be out of order. But if Machida were to drop three in a row - and the third to an aging Couture who is likely fighting his last MMA fight, win or lose - would be demonstrative of one of the most precipitous falls in MMA history.
And it's unclear to me what sort of an acquisition Machida might be for a rival. He's obviously skilled enough to compete with Strikeforce's or Bellator's light heavyweights, but the mental toll after suffering three straights losses after being undefeated until the first loss combined with a dubious ability to actually draw MMA audiences without UFC backing might make questionable acquisition material.
I expect Machida to crush Couture, frankly. I'll never write off Couture's chances and I'm curious to see how he plans to win. But all of this is a fresh reminder that without some buoy in this sport, e.g. good will of the boss or financially measurable popularity, the art of staying employed in MMA is a talent even the talented don't possess.