Tito Ortiz will challenge champion Chuck Liddell for the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown on Dec. 30 at UFC 66. A rematch of their April 2004 UFC 47 bout -- which Ortiz lost in the second round -- the fight provides Ortiz with an opportunity to recapture the title that he held for over three years from 2000-2003.

Born January 23, 1975 in Huntington Beach, Calif., Ortiz endured a very difficult childhood before turning to wrestling in high school -- a decision that he says "saved" his life. High school wrestling success led to a college scholarship and was the vehicle that eventually took him to mixed martial arts and the UFC.

Ortiz doesn't shy away from the camera or hesitate to speak his mind on a number of topics. His showmanship and outspokenness have opened up opportunities outside the UFC that make Ortiz arguably the most recognizable fighter -- and possibly the most controversial -- in all of mixed martial arts.

Ortiz took time during a break in training Dec. 7 to talk to me by phone from Big Bear, Calif., where he was preparing for the Liddell fight. What follows are the highlights of an interview in which the complete Ortiz is on display, answering a range of questions -- from his childhood to his experiences fighting in the UFC to his relationship with Jenna Jameson to his views on the war in Iraq.

UFC 66 bout vs. Liddell
First of all, are you training in Big Bear (Calif.) right now?

Yes I am.

Why do you like training in Big Bear?

I've been coming to Big Bear now for the last six-and-a-half years to get away from the city. A lot of fighters take things for granted when they are at home training. They get to be around normal life. Up here we have to sacrifice a whole bunch. Up here there's nowhere to go out [and] friends can't came over to visit. We eat, sleep and train -- that's all we do. The altitude has a lot to do with it also -- we're at 8,000 feet. But I think more than anything, it's really just [about] secluding myself -- it's about training, focusing on fighting and not really worrying about anything else going on in my life.

Who do you train with?

Actually, from time to time I get different training partners, but one of my main trainers is Saul Soliz from Texas. He pretty much puts everything together that I need to do for the fight: the wrestling, the kickboxing, the jiu-jitsu. But then I bring in training partners for each of those styles. I bring some college wrestlers. Of course, I have this guy Jake [O'Brien] who fights as a heavyweight in the UFC and wrestled for Purdue. I have Raphael Davis, who wrestled for Cal State Bakersfield -- he's up here training with me, along with kickboxer Aaron Rosa from Texas. I try and use guys who are the same size as the guy I'll be fighting. Chuck Liddell is about 6-foot-2, 215-220 pounds "walking around" weight. I try to get guys similar to his body type, striking skills and wrestling ability. I just try to mimic Chuck Liddell in my training.

What is your training regimen for this fight?

I wake up at 12 p.m. [and] get to the gym by 1 p.m. We do sparring with takedowns, kick, punch and some jiu-jitsu moves for about two-and-a-half hours. I come home, eat a small meal [and then] do my track work -- cardio, sprints. We do sprints on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and [other] running during that time on Tuesday and Thursday. [I then] come back and have another small meal. [I] go to the weight facility after that for about an hour, [and] just focus on one certain muscle per day -- one day would be shoulders, another day would be back, another day we'll do chest, another day we'll do legs and we rotate that throughout the week. And then I come home, have a small meal and go back to the gym around 9 p.m. and do my wrestling and jiu-jitsu. It's pretty much a full-time job – six days a week, anywhere from six to eight hours a day of really putting my body through the grindstone, just really working as hard as I can so that when I fight sometimes the fight [itself] is actually easy.

What do you do on your day off?

My day off is Sunday. I get to cheat, [meaning I] eat any type of food I like -- pizza, fast food, drink sodas, ice cream -- and just chill. [I might] go to the movies or something, relax and that's pretty much just it. During training days, I'm training from 12:30 p.m. until about 10 p.m. and I don't get really wound down until 1 a.m. I sleep from 1 a.m. to 12 p.m. -- an 11-hour period where my body is resting a whole bunch so I'm able to train like that.

How do you feel about your fight against Liddell?

I'm really focused on getting my world title back. Liddell is really one of the best fighters in the world right now and I think I [will] have my hands full because of the [UFC 47] loss, but I think I've really matured a lot as a fighter. I'm 31-years-old. I've been in this competition now for 10 years. I think I have a lot more to learn. At the same time, I'm getting better with age. … I want to fight the best and Liddell is the best in the world. He's holding the world title and nothing is better than [getting] the gold back around my waist.

You mentioned your UFC 47 loss to Liddell. What did you learn from that loss?

It was just a learning experience, [learning] to focus on my game plan and not fighting his game plan for this fight -- not playing into his hands, chasing him down, or trading punches with him because he's a very good striker. I think this time around I'm trying to stick to the game plan the whole fight and my hand will be raised at the end.

What are you working on specifically for this fight? Any techniques, anything like that?

Well, I think all the same stuff [as the first fight]. Really hard work. If I told you exactly I'd be giving away my game plan and I can't really do that (laughing).

You're known for printing up T-shirts after your matches. For example, in your Ken Shamrock fight, the last one, you wore a "Punishing Him Into Retirement" shirt. Do you have a T-shirt ready for this match with Liddell?

Of course I have a T-shirt. I have a T-shirt for every one of my fights. Things that motivate me are the things I express on my T-shirts mostly.

Any hints as to what it says?

You'll have to tune in to pay-per-view to see what T-shirt I put on after I win my world title. It's one of the biggest things going on throughout the United States and the world. It will be recognized and that's as close as I can get about saying anything.

Life as a mixed martial arts fighter
What do you enjoy most about being a fighter?

What I enjoy most about being a fighter is really being an inspiration in people's and kids' lives, knowing where I came from. I came from the streets of Santa Ana, Calif. My parents were drug addicts and I wasn't really supposed to be a person who was supposed to excel in life. And I really went against all the odds and made something of myself. And that was through fighting. When I was in high school, I was a great wrestler and I went to college and got a degree in physical education. I wanted to become a high school coach, [but] it just seemed like teachers weren't making that much money. And of course, coming from a poor family, it seemed like I really wanted money. I wanted things everyone else had like the cars and the houses. You don't really live a luxurious life as a teacher and I wanted that.

But I always wanted to help and give back. And as I became a fighter … and became world champion and really exposed myself to the fans who were watching … I felt like I was touching a wider base of kids -- showing the hard work [and that] there are no shortcuts in life and that's just one of the things I learned through fighting. If you take a short cut, it's going to bite you in the butt in the end. I've always worked really, really hard to get where I am.

One of those things I really got out of fighting was giving back to the youth, the kids that look for mentors to look up to. There are a lot of kids that come from broken families or from less fortunate families and they feel like they are not as worthy as anybody else. [But] they are as worthy as everyone else as long as they work hard and they keep their dreams high and never stop achieving goals -- [as long as] they keep working.

Explain to the average fan what it's like stepping into the Octagon when you fight. What's your attitude as you approach the Octagon? What are you thinking about?

There's a lot of emotions that I go through. I'm a very emotional fighter of course. Everything you can think of -- anger, intimidation, fear, excitement. Every single emotion that you can think [of] is what stepping into that ring is about. When I step in, I'm not just fighting for myself, I'm fighting for my fans, I'm fighting for my family, just trying to make sure I'm the best I can possibly be when I step into the Octagon.

It's just so overwhelming -- that out-of-body experience of watching myself compete. I'm not the one competing. It's really weird -- because of the three months that I put into training -- we just do rigorous training, over and over and over again, my body just sets it to cruise control. What I did in training is what I'm going to do during the fight. I've been to a lot of concerts, I've been to professional boxing matches and I think [the UFC] is a mixture of going to a rock concert and a boxing match. There's not one particular word to describe it … you have 16,000 people screaming your name, they're supporting you or pulling for you, and millions of fans watching on pay-per-view. It's just great to see that I've achieved a lot in life.

You mentioned having a range of emotions when you step into the Octagon. Is one of those emotions fear?

There is fear, but I think the fear leaves me by the time I get into the Octagon. Every time I fight, there are tears that come down and I never really realized why I had tears coming out of my eyes when I walked out. I've come to realize that it's the fear leaving my body. So I have no fear when I step into the Octagon. I did all the hard work prior to the fight. I have all these fans screaming for me. [I have a] sense of "I made it in my life and I'll continue making it," and when I step into the Octagon I know I put all the hard work in and now its time to showcase my skills.

What are the downsides of being a fighter? Are there any sacrifices you have to make and what are they?

There are lots of sacrifices in becoming a fighter of course, especially an Ultimate Fighter. It's the hard work … the road work, the lifting, the boxing, the wrestling, the jiu-jitsu. It's really, really challenging -- not going out with your friends. I have friends who are in a rock band Korn, and they go on tour all the time. It seems like every time they go on tour I'm actually in training camp and I can't go out and hang out with them.

My girlfriend would want to go out and go to the movies or go eat dinner at 7 p.m. -- I gotta go train at 7 p.m. I can't eat dinner. I eat dinner at 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. at night. … On the weekends, Saturdays are the days we do our mountain runs and lift weights. I can't leave the mountain to go have a fun time with my son at Disneyland … because I'm training. I spend time away from my son when I am up at Big Bear. He comes up to visit me once every two or three weeks. I have to sacrifice to make sure I'm in the right shape, the right mindset, so when I step into the Octagon I know I'm ready.

How old is your son?

My son is 4 years old.

What's his name?

His name's Jacob.

So he took your name? Is your name originally Jacob Ortiz?

Yes, it's originally Jacob. I got Tito when I was one.

Ortiz's background
I read that your parents separated when you were 13 and you moved with your mother and brothers. How did those events shape you as a person?

I grew up at a truly young age. … At the age of six, my brothers stayed in Huntington Beach [and] I left with my mother and father and moved to Santa Ana. I [lived through] their drug binges [with] almost six years of [going] in and out of motels, living in cars, living in people's garages, living in little trailer homes, [living] in the back of people's houses and I had to see a lot of really bad stuff at a really young age.

At the age of 13, my mother actually took a huge chance [by] leaving my father to give me a better life. She met another man and moved us back to Huntington Beach [to live] with my brothers. It was a hard change for me. I was so used to always moving from town to town when I was with my mother and father that I got a sense of being home when I got back to Huntington Beach -- because I was back with my brothers again. I was at a school where a lot of people knew who I was, they knew who my brothers were and I got the right feeling in my heart. … knowing "I'm home now" -- I'm finally back where I started.

I had little problems during high school. It seemed like I was always getting into trouble in summer, going in and out of juvenile hall. [But] I got into wrestling and it saved me. If it wasn't for wrestling, I wouldn't be where I am right now, I don't think. Wrestling really saved me … I kept wrestling and I got better at it. I got the attention that I never got as a young kid -- from the wrestlers' families, from the teachers and from the coaches that really helped out and accepted me as being a great wrestler.

What led you to going into wrestling in the first place? Why did you choose that as a sport?

I was always a huge WWF wrestling fan and Hulk Hogan was one of my biggest heroes. As a kid growing up, I looked up to how he would [portray] himself on television -- [his catch phrases] "eat the vitamins", "say the prayers" -- I loved that a whole bunch.

I got into high school and I heard this thing about wrestling and one of my friends wrestled. I walked into the wrestling room and I asked "Where's the ring?" because I was expecting the same thing as professional wrestling. I really took [a liking] to it. I guess I was a natural athlete. At the end of my freshman year, the varsity season was already over and I went and wrestled around with some of the varsity guys. The coach asked me if I had ever wrestled before and I said "No" and he said, "You may have something here. Why don't you stick to it?" I continued doing it that summer. … I started on varsity my sophomore year and I continued. It was one of those things that I really liked, the one-on-one combat, the competition. …

When I lost, it was because of a takedown. I lost because of points, not getting away from a guy. I knew what I had to do to become a better wrestler, which was to work hard. … [If I didn't work hard,] the only person I was cheating was myself -- there was no one else but me, and the hard work paid off. … In fighting you're the only person who's in the gym. You have guys training you but you're the only guy who's pressuring yourself or pushing yourself to get better. That's what I learned through wrestling.

Your first big break came in UFC 13, when you were still in college and you fought as an amateur. How did you end up with that opportunity?

I was a freshman at Golden West Junior College (Calif.) and I had just won my first state title in wrestling. And there was a guy by the name of Jerry Bohlander who fought in the UFC and he ended up winning the tournament I watched on TV and I said, "That guy looks familiar!" I looked at some of my old records in high school and I had wrestled [Bohlander] in high school in the state meet and I beat him, 10-2, I think it was. I [thought] "I manhandled that guy and he's doing this stuff now?"

So I called Tank Abbott [a UFC fighter and friend of Ortiz's] and I go, "Is there any possibility of getting into the UFC?" It was one of the only organizations around for ultimate fighting. He's all, "Yeah, I think I can do that for you."…I trained for four to five months and I got into it.

I fought May 3, 1997. I had my first match against Wes Albritton. He was a fifth-degree black belt in karate. It was just a fight to me. I took him down … within 22 seconds. And I fought as a complete amateur just so I could keep my scholarship for wrestling. I wanted to keep competing in wrestling because my idea wasn't really to be a fighter, it was to see what this stuff was about, to have fun -- really, my dream was to make it as a coach.

I wanted to be a coach or a resource teacher -- that was my biggest thing … so I …continued to wrestle for two more years. The next year I won the state title again at Golden West Junior College. I then got a full-ride scholarship to Cal State Bakersfield. I wrestled there for a year and I was going through really hard times. I got injured near the end of the wrestling year and ended up not placing for the national meet. It was really hard for me. The coach at Cal State Bakersfield and I didn't really get along and it seemed like why should I be [arguing with] this guy all the time? And all of a sudden the UFC got in touch with one of my friends saying they wanted me to fight again.

I took a huge chance. It was either continue to get my degree or fight. I took a chance and I got out of school and I continued fighting. When I fought again, [my opponent] was Jerry Bohlander … I stopped him in 15 minutes and I think a star was born right there. It was something I really loved doing -- being on television. I got my 15 minutes of fame and [fighting] became my career.

What is your relationship now with your parents and brothers?

I'm really, really close with my brothers. With my mother of course we're really, really close. I haven't spoken to my father in almost five years and I think it's kind of time to bury the hatchet and let bygones be bygones. I think I need to talk to him and just [discuss] what problems I have with him. I still have a lot of hostility toward my father because of the stuff he put us through. My mom … wrote to me about 3 or 4 years ago -- a long letter for my birthday … telling me why everything went the way it went, saying how sorry she was and I forgave her because it takes a really big person to do that and my father really never did that.

It was just one of those hard things. And now that I start thinking about it, maybe that was only as well as he thought he could do. Maybe all he knew what to do was what he was doing. But I can really look at it and say, "Am I over it now?" [And the answer is] "Yeah, I think I'm ready to accept it." It's just one of those emotional things that eats me up inside, but I'm sick of being eaten up.

On the topic of your father, I wanted to ask you about your heritage, your Mexican heritage. You carry the Mexican flag as well as the U.S. flag into the Octagon. How important is your Mexican heritage to you?

It seemed as I got older and as I got more mature, I started realizing that I have to accept where I come from. My father is from Santa Ana. His father is from Mexico City and I went to Mexico City about four years ago and I really looked at my heritage, seeing where my grandfather came from and I just kind of took it to heart. … Why not embrace both heritages? And that's what I do. My father's full-blooded Mexican [and] my mother's full-blooded American, so I grab a Mexican and an American flag. It's what makes me strong when I walk into the Octagon.

Romantic life
How did you meet Jenna Jameson?

Jenna and I met [on] myspace.com. … She requested me as a friend and I guess she's been a big fan of mine. She's been to a lot of my fights and so forth and we exchanged comments back and forth and e-mails; she said she was going to be at UFC 61 in July and we started talking. After the fight she came to my after-party, we had a few conversations, and we exchanged numbers and a couple of weeks later we went out on a date. It's been since Aug. 20 that we've been seeing each other.

In a recent interview, you spoke very glowingly about her. What would you say you admire most about her?

God, there are so many things. I just like to see that she's a strong-headed woman, that she's really, really educated on money-making. It's just really cool to see a woman [who did] what she did -- making an icon out of herself. How can I say it? Gosh, there are so many words: charismatic, intelligent – there's just so much to say about her.

It threw me for a loop because when I first started dating her, I expected something totally different. And what I got was a diamond in the rough, I guess you could say, or she was already a diamond and just shined it up a little bit. I'm very, very impressed with the type of person she is. She's a really genuine person that I fell in love with.

You say you are in love with her. Is she someone you could see yourself marrying?

I actually just got over a marriage. My wife and I have been separated now for two years and I was with her for 13 years. I know [Jenna Jameson] is just getting over a divorce herself. So, I don't think that we're thinking of marriage anytime soon. We have really, really fun times with each other. As a friend, I couldn't ask for any more. As a girlfriend, I couldn't ask for anything more. As a best friend, I couldn't ask for anything more. She trains all the time. She works out with me. It's really cool to see she doesn't smoke cigarettes, she doesn't party and it's just one of those really cool things to see someone who cares about their health and cares about what type of person they are, really does the same things I do. I really, really look up to her a whole bunch.

The Marine Corps Ball Controversy
How did the Marines originally approach you to be the guest of honor for the Marine Corps ball?

I [received] an e-mail from one of the lieutenants there. I'd been down to Camp Pendleton and talked to the guys a few times. It was one of those things where a lot of Marines just looked up to me as an entertainer, as a fighter, and they see the stuff that I do in the Octagon. … I really care about these guys who are fighting, putting their lives on the line for us.

[The lieutenant] got in touch with me and asked if I would be the guest of honor for the ball. I was like: "Wow. Is this really happening right now?" I was really, really excited. [I was told] "You and a date can come and all you have to do is speak in front of a thousand, two thousand people." I was like, "That's cool. I have no problem doing that." I've done motivational speeches before. I said, "Well I'll bring my date Jenna Jameson." He kind of skipped a beat and said, "Huh?" He said, "I gotta check in on this." I guess he talked to a [commanding officer] and then all of a sudden, I got an e-mail back saying "We'd love for you to come, but you cannot bring Jenna Jameson."

I was like, OK, that's really disrespectful. I can't go then. There's no possible way for me [to go]. I've pretty much fallen in love with this girl. She's an awesome person. I respect her so much as a person. How can I go there and still respect her? I couldn't do that. … I really stood next to Jenna no matter what. And I think she really was like, "Wow, you're not going because I can't go?" I was like, "Yeah! How could I do that? What if we do get married later on and we look back going I went to that thing without you. How could I respect you?" I could not do that and I wasn't going to do that.

And all of a sudden [the Marine Corps] tried to put a spin on [the situation], saying -- why would they have an Ultimate Fighter be the guest of honor of the Marine Ball [and] how could they let him bring his girlfriend, a porno star? That was just [Jenna Jameson's] working field. That was what she did for her business. I beat people up for my business. And then you have 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old kids going overseas to kill people and they have a problem with that? I could not understand that.

It really hurt me a whole bunch because all the kids who do this sport, as well as those who fight in the armed forces really look up to me and I think they really [would have accepted] Jenna being there ... because of the type of businesswoman she is and how hard she works. It was an awards thing, man. I would have loved to have been there. I still support the U.S. troops, the Marines too. I support them a whole bunch. I'll do anything for them -- I have no problem at all. But they have to understand that when I am with a person, its not because of what type of line of work they are in, it's the type of person they are. And that's what I looked at in Jenna -- what type of person she is. … She's no longer in that type of work. She hasn't been in it in the last four years. It's just one of those things where how can I respect myself if I can't respect my girlfriend?

Has this incident changed your perceptions of the Marines or the fighting men and women of this country?

This has not changed anything at all [toward] the way I feel about the Marines or the people who support our country and fight for our country. It was maybe one or two people that made that decision and it had nothing to do with the troops or the Marines. And I do take that into consideration and I do completely understand it.

Like I said, I still support them 100 percent and I will always support them 100 percent. It was just one of those things that was bad timing I guess you could say. It was a bad decision on their part, maybe. It wasn't a bad decision on my part, because I had to stand up for what I believed in. And maybe times will change and people will view things differently. That's what I'm hoping.

The War in Iraq
You wore a T-shirt after your UFC 51 victory over Vitor Belfort (February, 2005) that said "Bring Home Our Troops." What is your current stance on the war in Iraq?

I watch on CNN and I see that they are having a civil war. I believe that we should be out of there by now. We've done what we needed to do by getting Saddam Hussein. There are a lot of things that [the U.S. troops] have conquered and … it seems like they've made a lot of mistakes. I'm not sure of 100 percent of the mistakes, but I see a few of them. Are they just fighting for oil? Are they just fighting for land? I thought we were just there to get rid of all the terrorists. I think they've made their point loud and clear. And I think it is time for them to bring home our troops. And that's just my opinion.

Did you vote in the elections that just passed?

Yes.

Were you happy with the outcome of the elections and do you think the outcome will change anything in Iraq?

I was happy with the outcome but [as for] if it will change, I hope it does. I hope it changes a whole bunch. I hope they bring everyone home. I hope the right decisions are made, politically, for them. Everything is in [the U.S government's] hands now. As Americans, we made our decision. Now it's [the U.S. government's] turn to make their decisions.

Why did you take the role in the controversial Turkish movie, "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq"?

I took that role strictly on the theatrical side of it, trying to build my foundation as an actor. I read the script, the part that I was in, I read the script briefly, and [my part] was a soldier who was coming over to Syria or wherever I was and I was defending the people there as a United States soldier. … It was no more than that.

I think [there are a lot of misconceptions with people] thinking I was trying to portray what the movie was about. I was not. I was strictly learning as an actor. I was just doing work. It was just a job for me. [I was not saying] "I'm against this. I'm against that." Not at all. It was strictly a job to me. I was just trying to do my job as an actor. …

Ortiz's Future
What is your contract situation with the UFC?

I'm starting a new contract with my fight against Liddell. That fight is the first fight of the new contract. And then I have two fights after that. I want to stay with the UFC. I started my career with the UFC. I plan on staying with the UFC. The UFC is doing just so awesome right now -- we're doing so great on pay-per-view. We've taken over boxing. We've taken over professional wrestling. We've pretty much taken over the United States, almost the world of … sports. We're getting crazy numbers on some of the ratings of the shows that we're doing. And the numbers that we are doing on pay-per-view are awesome, man. We're getting Mike Tyson numbers back when boxing was in its heyday.

About Mike Tyson, what do you think of his recent deal with Pride?

If it's just kickboxing, he'll do a decent job. If it's MMA, he's in trouble. People don't understand … it's a totally different sport. If I got in a ring with Tyson with boxing gloves, I wouldn't last a round. If Tyson got in a ring with small gloves and I was able to take him down and do submission moves, he wouldn't last a round with me. That's just the way it is. [In MMA fights,] there are so many different ways of winning a match that it makes it really hard for a boxer to come in and compete at our level.

You've been fighting for a number of years now. How many more years do you think you want to fight?

I've been fighting almost 10 years. Actually May 30 [2007] will be my 10-year [anniversary]. I plan on doing it for another five years -- four or five years. As long as my body is able to keep doing what it's doing. I kind of had a scare about two years ago where I had a bulging disc in my back and I couldn't wrestle. I couldn't do a lot of things. This last year, it's healed. I'm able to keep competing as long as my body is letting me compete.

When I'm 40 years old, I want to be able to throw a football with my son. It's something I really take into consideration -- make as much money as I possibly can and then get out of it. [I'd like to] go into acting. I love acting. I love doing films, action films, anything I can get into that is produced at a … high level, really use my skills. I've been fighting for so long, I'm so used to being [in front of] a camera, that it's just a really comfortable area for me.

What would you like people to say about your MMA career when it's all over?

That I was pretty much the [Muhammad] Ali of mixed martial arts. I really put the sport on the map. I'm really articulate when I do my thing -- when I speak on the mic, when I do interviews. I'm a colorful personality.

Do you see another Tito Ortiz on the horizon?

I really don't think so unless there's a kid who's really mimicking everything I do. I believe I am one-of-a-kind. I've always said that from the very beginning. I'm lucky to be that I think. I hope there is. I hope there's someone I can hand the torch off to, [who will] keep doing what I'm doing … showing what this sport is really about, really having a love for the sport as much as I do.

Can we get a prediction from you on the outcome of your match against Liddell?

I'm really not a person to give predictions, but one prediction I do give -- it'll be one of the most exciting fights of the year and one of the most exciting fights in UFC history, just because of the history Liddell and I have. I'm willing to make sure that my hand's raised at the end. And that's my prediction -- making sure my hand is raised at the end. And [I predict] an exciting fight so everyone gets their pay-per-view dollar's worth no matter what.

Pramit Mohapatra covers mixed martial arts for Baltimoresun.com