Make no mistake about it. Once upon a time, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was indeed very bad.
Still in college, he signed up for UFC 13 and smashed Wes Albritton by TKO in thirty seconds. This was the reserve bout for the lightweight (200 lbs.) tournament, so when Enson Inoue, who won his earlier match by armbar, could not return to the cage due to injury, Ortiz stepped in for him to vie for the tournament championship.
His opponent, Guy Mezger, had already accumulated eighteen fights, mostly in the Pancrase organization. For the time, the names on Mezger's record were quite noteworthy, as all achieved the semi- vaunted "King of Pancrase" title throughout their careers: Bas Rutten, Masakatsu Funaki, Yuki Kondo, Semmy Schilt, and Minoru Suzuki. This is relevant, as again, this was Tito Ortiz's second fight in his first night of MMA.
The scrawny, chicken-legged Ortiz came out whirling leather, immediately stuffing a Mezger takedown and securing a front headlock cradle and slamming knees to Mezger's head. The assault opened two gashes on Mezger's melon, causing referee Big John McCarthy to jump in and have the injuries checked by the doctor. They restarted on the feet instead of the dominant position Ortiz was in, and Mezger locked in a guillotine when Tito hit a double leg, forcing the tapout.
That opened the door to the formidable rise of Tito Ortiz through his heated rivalry with the Lions Den. Against Ryan Bader on the main card of UFC 132 Saturday night, nearly a decade and a half later, I think we'll see that door close.
More on the Ortiz vs. Bader pairing after the break.
Circa 1997, the mauling to the left was twenty-two year old Tito Ortiz's first professional MMA fight.
He didn't come out as just a wrestler; he beamed with a killer instinct for fighting right from the start, assuming the role of the pissed-off bully. The broadcast announced that he'd accepted the opportunity to train with Tank Abbott because no one else dared to, so here is exactly where the "Bad Boy" image first began.
During the hellaceous waterfall of elbows, notice how Ortiz traps the right arm of Albritton, then transitions to full mount, and twice forces his head flat on the mat to take the full downpour of blows. This is a straight up "gimme your lunch money" beating.
In his next two Octagon appearances, Ortiz scored stoppages over two Lions Den fighters, the first, a shocking upset over an ultra-confident Jerry Bohlander, who had won the first lightweight championship at UFC 12. Next, in a fight at UFC 19 that he took on short notice when Vitor Belfort pulled out, Ortiz cemented his reputation by avenging his loss to Guy Mezger with a strike-stoppage.
History was made when -- after Ortiz assailed Mezger with strikes to force the TKO -- he stood up in the cage, turned to face Ken Shamrock and the Lions Den team, fired the proverbial six-shooters at them, and defiantly waved both middle fingers while wearing a wide and evil grin.
To add insult to injury, Ortiz went to his corner and donned a shirt with "Gay Mezger is my Bitch" splashed in big letters across the front.
It is rumored that the ensuing conniption Ken Shamrock suffered outside the cage would later trigger the heart palpitations that forced him out of his fight with Fujita in Pride.
Ortiz is has generally been stamped with the "one-dimensional" label. However, even at this embryonic stage of his career against Mezger, Ortiz synthesized wild but effective boxing combinations and low single-legs from outside, knees, dirty boxing, guillotine attempts, and body-lock takedowns from the clinch, along with relentless ground-and-pound from dominant positions on the mat.
Frank Shamrock, who armbarred Olympic freestyle wrestling gold-medalist Kevin Jackson to become champion and slammed Igor Zinoviev through the floor in his first defense, was on top of the world in the UFC. Even though he only had four fights in the Octagon, he was considered untouchable by most and his collision with Ortiz was billed as the "Fight of the Century".
Again, the difference in experience is worth noting: Ortiz had five fights under his belt at the time, while Shamrock had almost thirty. Ortiz came out impressively and worked his takedowns and top-game, maintaining control of the fight early, but eventually fizzled out in the fourth round.
In an unforgettable moment that secured me as a longtime fan of Ortiz, before the fighters came to the center of the cage for the announcement of the winner, he dashed to his corner and started to slip on another T-shirt. In the place of what had been scathing ridicule of the fighter he'd just beaten, Ortiz wore a Frank Shamrock shirt, showing respect to his victorious opponent.
This was the last time Frank Shamrock would ever fight in the UFC, sparking Tito's long reign of terror over what eventually became the light-heavyweight division, even though the promotion's "dark years" after John McCain's infamous allegations of "human cockfighting".
Though he's considered the outright pioneer of nothing in particular, there were many aspects of MMA, as we know it today, in Tito Ortiz's pre-millennium style. He he was one of the first fighters to: take the role of the heel to an entirely new level, demonstrate the benefits of an enormous weight cut, emphasize the importance of cardio after citing it as the reason he lost to Frank Shamrock, and hold out as champion for more lucrative pay in his contract.
In retrospect, he was knocked for lacking elite competition in the six-fight streak that isolated him as a dominant champion, even though it bore names like eventual Pride assassin Wanderlei Silva, popular Japanese fighter Yuki Kondo, the late Evan Tanner, respected wrestler Vladimir Matyushenko, and MMA legend Ken Shamrock. It was trendy to insist Ortiz ducked Chuck Liddell and Jeremy Horn during this stint, but many forget that Liddell was choked unconscious by Horn, and Horn in turn was submitted by Elvis Sinosic in a number-one contender match.
In the next era, he lost the luster. Ortiz was defeated convincingly by Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, and none of the following five wins were devoid of contention, as the smaller Patrick Cote took the fight on short notice and dropped Ortiz, both split-decisions over Forrest Griffin and Vitor Belfort were controversially close, and the back-to-back rematches with Ken Shamrock didn't impress many. Ortiz is winless since then, drawing with Rashad Evans and losing to Liddell, Lyoto Machida, Griffin, and most recently, Matt Hamill.
This sentimental trip down memory lane is intentional, because it's Tito's history of indisputable accomplishments that garnered him the reputation and drawing power he's still riding fourteen years later. We arrive at the present, where high-mileage, old age, and a plethora of surgeries and injuries have left only his ability to sell a fight fully intact.
His opponent, Ryan Bader, is a younger, more athletic version of Ortiz, who should be a step ahead in every area of combat. His striking is sharper, faster, and more powerful; the same goes for his takedowns, his clinch, and his entire arsenal.
At Arizona State University, Bader was a three-time PAC-10 champion and two-time All-American, and suffered his first loss in pro-MMA against the seemingly unbeatable Jon Jones at UFC 126. In his breakout fights, he clobbered fellow TUF finalist Vinny Magalhaes with a scorching right hand, showed a more dynamic approach with the same power in finishing Keith Jardine, then rolled out the whole package when dueling on the feet and on the ground with veteran boxer and black belt Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Excluding the "lucky punch" that anyone can land in MMA, I don't see how Ortiz can win this fight.
My Prediction: Bader by TKO
Ortiz vs. Albritton gif via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
Ortiz vs. Shamrock gif via mmagif.blogspot.com