UFC 133 is far and away one of the most cursed cards in UFC history. Originally slated for the Jon Jones/Rashad Evans fight for the Light Heavyweight belt, we've seen fighters pull out due to injury and a co-Main Event between Rich Franklin and Antonio Rogerio Noguiera scrapped all together because of the said injury bug. The card has seen more changes that it is hard to even consider what it could have been compared to what is being delivered just three days out. When Phil Davis went down with a knee injury, the UFC was put in a position where they needed a Main Event when the rest of the division was booked through October.
Tito Ortiz stepped up when the planned rematch between Evans and Lyoto Machida fell apart at the eleventh hour and the UFC needed a headliner for this doomed event. But this isn't the first time that Ortiz has played the role of hero nor will it likely be the last. His relationship with the UFC has always been tenuous at best and one where he and the executive team are always butting heads over contracts or planned bouts.
Ortiz is essentially the first breakout fighter for the Zuffa-owned UFC. When North American MMA was all but dead, it was Ortiz that saved the UFC. He was a young, exciting, and charismatic fighter that connected with the fans. Pay per views headlined by Ortiz did far better than any headed by his peers. He was the star the sport needed in North America to regain a foothold in the market place. UFC 40 was the first Zuffa run card that broke the 100k buy mark and pumped some much needed blood into the dying brand. UFC 44 just barely missed the 100k mark in a card headlined by Ortiz and Couture, who until this point was not a box office draw. His stock rose with fans after besting Ortiz over five rounds.
Ortiz helped the UFC create stars in Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, two fighters who had captivated fans but failed where it mattered most, the box office. After the first fight with Tito, the Iceman was a made man going into The Ultimate Fighter with Randy Couture. Their match would set the bar for pay per view in North America, but it was only because of the fights with Ortiz that either fighter began to capture the attention of fans. Ortiz has been responsible for building up future stars as well when his fight with Forrest Griffin is what broke the Ultimate Fighter winner into the main stream.
Ortiz would again break records at the box office with UFC 61 when he and Ken Shamrock capped off a record setting season of the Ultimate Fighter in a rematch of their UFC 40 clash when the card did 775k buys. Due to an early stoppage in the fight, fans were treated to a third and final match between the two legends and again, it broke records for MMA on cable television. His rematch with Liddell at UFC 66 would break the one million buy mark and set the UFC up on a record setting PPV run over a four year period where they have shown enormous growth. He has been the fighter that Zuffa has used to put over talent who never became draws
Though he has been a nightmare to work with when it comes to contract negotiations, he's about as genuine as they come. In an emotional interview with Luke Thomas, Ortiz echoed what he has always said: that he fights for the fans. A look through his career, you can see that he's honest when he says he does this for us. Running into the crowd to celebrate a win with the fans after besting Vitor Belfort stands out in my mind as does his emotion when he sits on the top of the cage and tells the crowd that they are what drive him. He may be hated for his antics outside of the cage but whenever the UFC needed him, whether it was to bring in the PPV money or build up future stars, he's always been there for them. He's the unsung hero of the UFC and this weekend will just be another in a long line of times that Tito Ortiz helped save the UFC.