Long before Chael Sonnen became known for talking his way into, well, virtually anything UFC related, Tito Ortiz was busy laying the groundwork for self promotion. His trash talk, larger than life personality and well publicized rivalries became the foundation for athletes in a budding sport to gain recognition and fan backing. Over the course of his 15 year career, we saw Tito go from being a promising fighter to a champion, and further attain legendary, Hall of Fame status. In a landscape where the term 'legend' gets thrown around far too casually, Ortiz is one of the few that actually deserves the moniker. I recently had the good fortune to interview Tito, and covered a variety of topics for our readers.
Stephie Daniels: You've been away from the sport for a while now, do you miss it at all, and if so, how much?
Tito Ortiz: As far as missing being under the spotlight, I miss it a little bit, but as far as the fighting, not an ounce of it [laughs]. You know, I've had some major surgeries, and I put my body through Hell. I did what I set out to do, and I went out on my own terms. Management is my next step, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for me there.
Stephie Daniels: You talked about the toll on your body. How much abuse do you think your body has sustained over your career?
Tito Ortiz: Well, I've had ACL replacement in my left knee in 2003, L4 - L5 fused in 2009, C6 - C7 fused in 2010, disc replacement just recently in 2012, and in this year, I have to get ACL replacement on my right knee, stemming from the Forrest Griffin fight. What I feel every day is a sore back, sore neck, knees. It's a little twinge here, a tweak there, every day. Thank God I don't have to put myself through the training schedule anymore. Five or six days a week, at eight hours a day for three months at a time, two or three times a year is very challenging to have the mentality to keep going.
The positive reinforcement from my fans is what kept me going. Taking care of my family is important, and I wanted to make sure I gave them everything I could, too. I have no brain damage, thank God, after 15 years [laughs], I can't imagine why. I think it was because for a lot of my career, I was always on top, and it wasn't until the later part of my career that I started to take the damage. The challenge now is to keep my body in shape.
Stephie Daniels: You used to compete in BJJ for a while. Now that you've stopped MMA, will your fans be able to see you compete anywhere on the grappling circuit?
Tito Ortiz: There's a possibility of me doing jiu jitsu again. I've been going to a lot of these amateur wrestling meets with my son, who's 10 years old now. Maybe we could do a father / son wrestling meet or something. Right now, I'm only four weeks out of neck surgery, and then I have to get the ACL surgery. I still need to recover from that before I start thinking about anything, and if I'll compete again. You never know, I may come out of retirement. It's all about how my body recovers. Right now, I just want to focus on my family and my businesses, Punishment Athletics, Punishment Nutrition, and my new management company, Primetime 360. I just want to focus on helping other fighters now, and walk through the right alleys of their career. [Note that when I did this interview on Saturday 1/19/13, Tito was in AZ for his eldest son's wrestling meet]
Stephie Daniels: How is your relationship with the UFC now that you're retired?
Tito Ortiz: Dana and Lorenzo gave me the opportunity to make a brand of myself, and I'm so very thankful to them for that. I've used that opportunity, and have been exploring every possible avenue that I can, since. Dana and I had our ups and downs, but he taught me so much, and when I look back, I look back fondly. He taught me so much as a person, and especially as a business man, and I think him being one of my managers taught me valuable things that I can use for the future with the athletes that I'm managing. I have nothing but admiration and respect for them, and great feelings for the UFC.
Stephie Daniels: You've had a long and illustrious career. When you look back, is there any part of it that you would change or do differently?
Tito Ortiz: The only thing I can really think of would be the feuding with Dana. I said some things, based on emotion, and was acting in a defensive manner. I think now, I would say things a little differently, and handled things better. I wouldn't have taken things so personally. I understand now, that it was just business. I grew up without that positive parental influence for a long time, until my mother left my father and got sober. I was just this kid in survival mode, and I carried a lot of that attitude over into my career. I always felt like I could never trust anyone, because I couldn't even trust my own family. I was always in defense mode. I could never believe that someone might be trying to help me. Yeah, my relationship with Dana would be the only thing I would change.
Stephie Daniels: You had great battles with Forrest Griffin. In your last fight, he trivialized your retirement and really set off a sour note with your fans. How did you feel at the time, and have you forgiven him since then?
Tito Ortiz: What Forrest did was really disrespectful. What I thought was going to happen was that my hand was going to get raised, and when it didn't, he just added to that feeling of being bummed out from the loss. It's like he went to smear it in, and it was a damper on the whole night, because I think my fans deserved more than that. After the fight was over, he came up to me and apologized and admitted that he had handled things wrong. I've absolutely forgiven him for it, because life is too short to hold on to things like that. People make mistakes. I've always been a fan of Forrest and always liked him, and even that bit of ugliness he showed won't change that.
Stephie Daniels: You said something earlier that caught my attention. You said 'maybe I'll come out of retirement'. What fight could inspire you to come back for one last fight?
Tito Ortiz: [Note that when he answered this question, it was without any hesitation] Frank Shamrock.
Stephie Daniels: If you ever decided to come back, would it be for the UFC, where you spent all 15 years of your career, or for another organization?
Tito Ortiz: I don't know. Right now, the number one priority for me is to run my businesses. I want to show that I'm a great businessman. I've shown that through my clothing company, and now I want to focus on my management company. I want to focus on my family and give my children all the things that I never had. Right now, the chances of me coming out of retirement are about 1 in a million.
Stephie Daniels: When you finally sat down and made your decision to retire, did you think in terms of full and total retirement, or retirement just from the UFC?
Tito Ortiz: I thought then, as I do now, that it's just the end for me, period. I want it to be. I'm sick of surgeries. I don't want to have to worry about possibly getting paralyzed or sustaining some lifelong injury. I have three kids I have to take care of. I have a family to take care of. That's the number one thing in my life. I was able to make a lot of money with the UFC, and I'm so thankful to them for that. I worked very hard to get to where I am today, and I just want to be the father that I never had growing up.
Stephie Daniels: What do you think was the most significant and / or important bout of your career?
Tito Ortiz: I think the fight against Ryan Bader was the most important. I had a four fight contract in front of me, and was facing getting kicked out of the UFC if I lost. That fight saved my career. It saved my kid's future, my family's future.
Make sure to check out Part II of this interview tomorrow.
You can follow Tito via his Twitter account, @TitoOrtiz