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 411mania » MMA » Columns

411 MMA Interviews: Tito Ortiz
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 09.26.2012

Recently 411mania.com got the chance to speak with the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and recent UFC Hall of Fame inductee, Tito Ortiz. Ortiz recently retired from fighting after losing a unanimous decision to Forrest Griffin at UFC 148. The same week, Ortiz was officially inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame for his numerous accomplishments and history in UFC and MMA including being the most defending UFC light heavyweight champion ever and one of the top box office draws the industry has ever seen. Even though he is no longer fighting, Ortiz is still very much involved with the MMA industry. He's started his own fighter management company, Primetime 360 Sports & Entertainment Management, Inc. In addition he will also be promoting and launching his own series of amateur MMA events in the Orange County area with the Fight Club MMA Rising Stars series, working alongside Roy Englebrecht and George Prajin.

The first event for the series is set for Saturday, October 6 at the Hangar at the OC Fair & Event Center in Orange County. The series will then have it's next event on Friday, December 7. This will be an all amateur fight series to help fighters on the developmental stage of their careers get to the next level and fight in the pros. Ortiz will also be setting up a "Training with Tito" session where he will invite each fighter in each corner at the events to have a private training session with him.

Jeffrey Harris: How is retirement from fighting been treating you for the last several months?

Tito Ortiz: I don't think of it as retirement. I think it's more a graduation of moving onto something a little more physically easier but mentally harder. And that's opening up my management company and amateur league.

Jeffrey Harris: So congrats on starting this new venture, Fight Club MMA "Rising Stars." And you'll be promoting some amateur MMA events coming up in October and December?

Tito Ortiz: Yes that is correct. Actually, about two weeks ago, I opened up a management company called Primetime 360 Sports & Entertainment. And it's pretty much a whole 360 of entertainment – from the sport side of it; of course the entertainment side of it. We're trying to find the new, next stars and the way to do that is manage the guys the right way. Catch them when they're amateurs and teach them to be professional, [and to] be comfortable to getting into a professional level of mixed martial arts.

Jeffrey Harris: So you and George Prajin will be promoting amateur fights in the Orange County/Southern area?

Tito Ortiz: That's correct. Us and Roy Englebrecht who does Fight Club OC.

Jeffrey Harris: Will you only focus on amateur fights or do you ever want to start promoting some professional ones as well?

Tito Ortiz: I only want to do amateur fights because I want to build these guys for the professional level. Of course [with] UFC being the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts, and I want to get them to that level. So kind of laying the foundation so when they get to that level, they're very familiar with it and they know how to work with it.

Jeffrey Harris: Had you wanted to do this for a while or planned on doing it before?

Tito Ortiz: I kind of did…but I wanted to fight. I wanted to give the best I possibly could in the UFC and I think I've done that. In the last 10-15 years, I've really kind of built a stable for myself of a business acumen of doing the best I possibly can. Now it's time to give back to the youth and the amateurs in this profession of mixed martial arts and the next superstars. All the trials and tribulations I've gone through in my career; now it's time to correct those things and do them the right way. And I think I'm able to show a lot of young fighters that are up and coming stars that this isn't just a hobby. This is a lifestyle. And this is a way of life, and if they want to be successful, the best way to do it is learning from someone who has been in the sport the longest and has done it the right way I think.

Jeffrey Harris: Was that July 4th week an emotional week for you? You were inducted into the Hall of Fame. You had your last UFC fight with Forrest Griffin. Was that a surreal experience or just another day in the office for you?

Tito Ortiz: It was very surreal. But it's kind of funny because it's kind of like another day in the office. When it was done and over with, I was like, "Is it really over that easy?" But I look back and I've gone through a lot of stuff physically, emotionally through my career. And I was able to be seen outside the box – just as a normal fighter. I was able to use my success on a different level. And when I opened this management company, I wanted to do the same thing for young fighters who are coming up so they understand it and not making the same mistakes that I did as I was coming up. When the UFC Hall of Fame came about, I was just like, "Wow. Is this really happening?" And I was thankful because I think my fans deserve it. I've worked so hard in the UFC. I just wanted to make sure my fans know that their support that I've got [meant a lot]...

Jeffrey Harris: Being a family man, is there any sense of relief that the fighting part of your life is done? Between the injuries and having to get multiple surgeries.

Tito Ortiz: Yeah. I got to get two more surgeries. I got to get neck surgery again and get my ACL replaced in my knee. I tore it in the Forrest fight. And I'm just happy I don't have to kill my body anymore. I've always had the idea that prepare for the worst and the best will happen. Well after the best has happened, what else is there to fall back on? And I was able to know a smart businessman and make sure I have something else to fall back on. And through the surgeries that I've had: I've had back surgery; I've had neck surgery; I've had ACL replacement before; I've had rib surgery. And I was able to battle through those things and be successful and get to the top guys in my weight class and at the top level of UFC. And now that I can finally get my last surgeries finally done and set forth and over with – I'm 37 years old and it's nice to finally use my brain now instead of my brawn. I've made some great businesses because of the UFC, because of Dana White and Lorenzo Fertita. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be able to have what I have today. I'm very thankful because of it. So now it's time to use it to its fullest and to make sure that I've learned from the mistakes that I've had. To not copy those mistakes again and to fix them and to really use them to its fullness of being the best manager I can be since I was one of the best fighters in the world and really give back to the youth of our sport in mixed martial arts.

Jeffrey Harris: I think in many ways you were a trailblazer in the business in not just being a top level fighter but how you promote and market fights such as the things you did for your fights with Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, and Randy Couture like when we saw the specials for your training camps on Spike TV or when you were a coach on The Ultimate Fighter in one of the higher rated seasons. I think you more than anyone know that it's not just about being a sport, if you want to make money you have to get your name out there and connect with an audience.

Tito Ortiz: 100%. I think those are the biggest keywords: connect with an audience. When the fans fall in love with you and they have association you – "I do that same thing. I've had neck problems. I have to get surgery. But how does Tito do it? Get in the gym and still train." Then all of the sudden, they have something to correlate with. They have something in common. And I think a lot of fighters need to show that because all of us fighters are all the same. We all have a lot of associations with a lot of people. It's just that we love to train to fight. And to me it's a business. I've never been a "fighter." I don't "like to fight." But I like to make money. I mean don't get me wrong, I'd like to make the best out of this market right now. And the only way for me to do it was to compete. It wasn't a fight to me. It was a competition. It was business, and I understood it as that. So now essentially with this management company and this amateur league is showing these guys the right way to do it so when they get to the pros, they've already been there. They understand it. They've been ran through the coals to do it the right way, and I think educating these guys on the right level is doing it. I'm going to make it happen. I'm not going to promise these guys anything at all, but if I do promise them one thing is I'm going to give them the opportunity; the guys and the girls. We just signed Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. So I'm going to give them the opportunity. They just got to make sure they work hard. This is not going to be easy for me or them but at the same time it's going to be an opportunity that no one else can give them. And I think everything I've been through my career, I can advise them. I can push them the right way so they understand that this is a business. If you put yourself as just a fighter, you'll be remembered as just a fighter. And I'm going to make the best of it I think and show these guys the right way to do it. So they do the interviews. They get their name out there and they are a household name. That's the biggest thing of this whole sport is being that household name. In boxing there is [Oscar] De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas, Mike Tyson, [Evander] Holyfield, [Muhammed] Ali. I mean that's just in boxing. That's just a few names that even come to mind. In wrestling there's The Rock, Hulk Hogan. There's so many of those big names in each sport – there is a void needs to be filled. There were guys like myself, Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, [Chuck] Liddell, [Randy] Couture. There are only just a few names in this sport that went to excel to the maximum as well as they could at the time. Now I've done great at getting to be a household name. So how do I make that happen for the future young fighters that are up and coming? I think that I've been through that myself, so I'm going to teach them how to do it.

Jeffrey Harris: You were a household name before everyone really knew what MMA was.

Tito Ortiz: It was the hard work I put in after. It wasn't just about fighting. It was about a business. This was a business to me. And people laughed at me. People were like, "Oh. Tito doesn't know what he's talking about." Now all of a sudden, 15 years later, I'm recognized and respected as that because I believed. I believe in putting in hard work in making these things happen and now it's paying off.

Jeffrey Harris: Last year when you defeated Ryan Bader at UFC 132, you beat a guy when a lot of people thought that was going to be it for your fighting career. And Ryan Bader who even just now was in a fight with Machida where he was competing to possibly get a UFC title shot. So what did it mean for you to not just beat Ryan Bader but finish a young, tough opponent like that?

Tito Ortiz: Well just showing that I still have it. No matter what the surgeries I've had done – just having back surgery in general, there's not one fighter that will come back after back surgery besides Nate Quarry who can compete and win. And just showing to the general public that we can accomplish anything. Set our goals high and never stop dreaming. And never stop working hard. I never stopped working hard. And I did that, and I think that was just god giving me back a gift, showing Tito, "See what hard work can achieve." Because before that fight, I worked harder than I ever worked in a long, long time. And I was able to do it because my health was good. I'm just very thankful for Lorenzo Fertita and Dan White for giving me the opportunities I've had in my career even if they challenged me a lot of times. But still, I've stuck next to the company. Whenever they wanted me to fight, I fought besides the one time that was against Chuck when he was my best friend and it was business decision on my part. I didn't have a manager. I didn't have people telling me what to do or how to do it. I did it myself. And that was the way I wanted to do it. And I just wanted to make more money if I was going to fight with my friends. In the falling out that he said he was never my friend, I guess I should have kicked his ass for cheaper money. It was just that I had to stand my ground. To me, this is a business and I got to take care of my children. My number one thing in my life is taking care of my children. I know what broke feels like and not having money, not being able to survive, not being able to put clothes on my back, not able to able to feed myself. And I don't want my children to ever feel that feeling. I had that feeling at the age of 6, 7, 8, 9 years old, and it seemed like another way of life. But then when I understood that's not the way life is supposed to be done, I wanted to make sure my children never had to do that. They never have to steal to feed themselves. They never have to steal to put clothes on their back. And that's why I work so hard and stand the ground that I do just because I want my children to never have to worry about financial stuff just as long as they work hard and they do great in school and respect their mother, respect their peers, and they respect their teachers and their father; that's what matters to me.

Jeffrey Harris: When you were being inducted to Hall of Fame, there was also a debate about Frank Shamrock since he had that previous win over you in the UFC and was the undefeated champion. I know it's not your call, but speaking hypothetically do you think Frank Shamrock deserves to be in the UFC Hall of Fame at some point?

Tito Ortiz: 100%. Frank Shamrock was a guy who changed the attitude of mixed martial arts. He put the mix in mixed martial arts for sure. I learned from him. After he beat me, I went into his camp and I trained with the guy. I learned how to use a heart rate monitor. I look up to Frank Shamrock. And even before we fought I still looked up to him. And he was a guy who got put literally on a bad pedestal because he tried to stand up for what I stood for. But at the time, he wasn't the champion. He was trying to come back and do things that he wasn't able to do. So he pretty much got blackballed completely out of everything. And he went to Strikeforce and he did that. So that was his business decision. The business decisions that I had were strictly because I was champion, and I believed what I was worth. And I think Frank Shamrock now and one time he should be in the Hall of Fame. He was a guy who I looked up to. Look at his name, Frank Shamrock. Everyone knows who Frank Shamrock is that is a serious fan of mixed martial arts.

Jeffrey Harris: Did it ever upset you when you fought through these injuries and talked about them and fans criticized you for it and fans felt that you were making excuses?

Tito Ortiz: Yes very much because the fans never understood what I went through. Now they are starting to see it. They are starting to see it. They are seeing fighters pull out of fights and they're pissed off at them. They're screaming at them, "Oh you guys are afraid to fight." Try to fight with injuries. Try to fight when fans aren't telling you to fight with injuries and you're saying no. I fought with injuries. I had a ruptured disc in my neck and fractured orbital bone the second time I fought Forrest [Griffin]. I still fought. I had two ruptured discs in my back and I fought Rashad Evans and [Lyoto] Machida. I fought Chuck with that back problem. Fighters now are pulling out. Back when I was doing it, fighters pulled out all the time and people didn't care because people didn't care about the fighters that were pulling out. They had no interest in them. Now when I'm not there, they're like, "god who do we watch?" They try to watch someone and they're pulling out due to injuries, and they're like, "Oh, he's pulling out. He's afraid to fight. Duh, duh, duh," because they're attitude has been set to a normalcy of a guy pulls out, he's afraid to fight. And that just goes out of what Dana has done with me. And I was just looking out for my health. When I fought, I was looking out for the company. I stepped up when I was fighting. When I fought Forrest Griffin, you got to understand, Brock Lesnar was supposed to fight Shane Carwin at UFC 106. And I was supposed to fight Mark Coleman. I was getting ready for camp and all of the sudden I was four weeks into camp and I get a call from Dana saying Mark Coleman pulled out because of knee problems. And the next opponent you're fighting is Forrest Griffin. I was like, "OK." I didn't second guess anything. I wasn't like, "Oh no. I need more money." I was like, "OK, fine." And I did that. Then all of the sudden, Brock Lesnar was hurt and he was pulling out, and I got pulled up to the main event. And through all that, I never questioned anything. I was like, "Cool. I'll fight Forrest. Let's get this on. Let's fight." And I did. And I stepped up and I fought…and our PPV numbers were great. I think we did over 600,000 PPV buys. We did great.

Jeffrey Harris: How does it make you feel to get your own action figures and being in a video game? And how do your kids like that?

Tito Ortiz: It's great. My son now, Jacob who is 10 years old, he says he plays and he uses me and he always beats all his friends. It's just cool to see. I mean it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believed in it. I worked for it and I made it happen. But now that it happened and I look at it, it's just very surreal. Now I have my own action figures, and its like, "Wow, I always dreamt about this." Having my own fighter cards – I was the first fighter to make fighter cards. I have my seventeenth edition of fighter cards. When I first started making them I thought it was just for the fans. I would make 10,000 of those each issue and I would give them out for free and give them out to the fans. And the same fighter cards that I made now that I've made, all of the sudden a company is paying for me to make cards. And I was like, "hey, this is pretty cool." You got to believe in something. You got to believe in what this all going to pay out for. I just was trying to push the example of mixed martial arts, and I think I've done it very well.

Jeffrey Harris: You're probably tired of talking about this, but after the last fight with Forrest Griffin we learned he was granted a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy. Do you think it's suspicious for younger fighters under 35 to use this and do you think these are legal steroids and it's weird that commissions are allowing fighters to use this?

Tito Ortiz: I think it's crazy. I'm just literally baffled by it. I don't understand why they do it. In my career, I never had to do it. In the Olympics, they don't allow anybody to do it. I think it's just were setting a wrong example for us as fighters as a whole for the use and for the fans that are watching us. All of the sudden kids now will be like, "Well if I can't do as well as that guy, maybe if I took steroids I'll do better." That's setting the wrong example. I mean Forrest is what? 35? 34? And he shouldn't have to use anything like that until you're 50 years old. And it should be strictly for recovery and strictly to make you feel younger. Not to do it to excel and become a better fighter. It's just an easy way out. That's a cheater. Plain and simple, that's a cheater. I mean look at guys like Barry Bonds who are looked very down upon because of it. There's guys in baseball who can't get into the Hall of Fame because of it. Why are we setting an example for our children? And giving the opportunity for fighters to do this is setting a horrible example. And I've always been a person trying to set an example for children in mixed martial arts who want to be the best fighters ever. So this is a shortcut for cheaters I think, and I think it shouldn't be accepted.

Jeffrey Harris: Forrest Griffin just turned 33 right before your third fight with him.

Tito Ortiz: 33. Wow. I couldn't even imagine doing that stuff at that age and being able to compete. That's just crazy.

Jeffrey Harris: But is it OK for older fighters to use it?

Tito Ortiz: I think for any man in this sport, you should never be able to have a handicap at those levels to compete against a guy. If you have to, retire. Get out of the sport. Don't set an example for our children for your own use or for your own sacrifice. It's something that just shouldn't be done.

Jeffrey Harris: Are there are any guys coming up from Team Punishment that you are really excited about?

Tito Ortiz: Yes actually. Rob Emerson. He actually fought in the UFC at 155 lbs. He had a little trouble over the last two years with himself and hanging out with the wrong people. I signed him over to my management company. He's fighting now at 145 lbs., and he just submitted a guy two months ago in just over a minute and 45 seconds. And he's going to be destroying guys at 145. He's very, very vicious. 155 was a little big for him, but now at 145 he's going to be doing a lot better. Another guy by the name of Ricardo Abrue, who is 3-0 right now, who fights under Team Punishment; he is very, very tough at 185. And I think he's going to have a bright future. And of course Cris Cyborg who fights at 145 in Strikeforce. She actually is a champion and she's going to continue dominating as a champion. I know she had a problem last year with the stuff we were just talking about. I saved her. I got her mind in the right place, and she's going to promise me. I'll put my stamp on her that she's going to get some great fights and at the same time she's going to be the champion that she's always been.

Jeffrey Harris: Is the fight with Ronda Rousey going to happen and does it happen at 135 or a catch weight?

Tito Ortiz: It will happen at a catch weight. It will not happen at 135. To answer your question, yes the fight will happen 100%. But it will not happen at 135. Cyborg cannot make that weight. She walks around at 160. For a woman to cut that much weight, it's really too hard health wise on her body to cut that much weight. She's always fought at 145. Ronda Rousey fought at 145 at the beginning of her career. So why would a person whose the champion and whose defending the world title cut down to hinder her body just to make someone else happy?

Jeffrey Harris: Putting that aside what do you think of Ronda Rousey and what she's accomplished?

Tito Ortiz: I think Ronda Rousey is awesome for the sport. I look up to the girl. I think she's great for the sport. She's very beautiful. She has great technique. Great talent. And she is at the best at 135 pounds I think, and I wish the best for her. But if she fights Cris Cyborg, we've all seen what she did to Gina Carano. Cyborg made of an example of her. And I think Cris Cyborg will make an example of all the women in mixed martial arts because she's a different species. She's a different type of a woman. She's a fighter. She's a fighter at heart. Ronda Rousey, she's a great champion. She's a great representation of the United States and Olympic Judo. But I represent Cris Cyborg and I think she's a better fighter. But what Ronda Rousey has in front of her is a PR machine in ZUFFA, and they're pushing the right woman at this time at the right time. And I think Ronda Rousey deserves it and she's a great fighter.

Jeffrey Harris: Anything you would like to plug or anyone you would like to thank or give a shout out to?

Tito Ortiz: I just want to be very thankful to my fans. Without the fans I wouldn't the fighter or person or businessman I am today. And of course any fighters, if any of you guys want to e-mail me, tito@primetime360esm.com. If you want management, our firm will take at look at you guys. We just want a profile of what they've done and plan on doing. And hopefully get the next champion. For the fans, you can follow me on Twitter @titoortiz.

Thank you very much to Tito Ortiz for speaking with us. You can buy tickets for the inaugural 10 bout Rising Stars show on October 6th, priced at $50 and $40, online at fightcluboc.com


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