On every UFC fight card there are fighters that must win their bouts to remain in the organization. But for one living legend, the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz, his fight with Ryan Bader at UFC 132 means a lot more: if he loses, he must retire.
"I guess I don't have really much of a choice. If they say I'm going to retire they are going to make me retire." Tito explained. "There's not anywhere else to go. You know they bought up all the companies. There's no more Strikeforce, there's no more Elite XC, there's no more Affliction, there's no more Pride (Fighting Championships). I mean they bought everything. So, I have to do what they tell me to do."
Over the years, watching Ortiz in and out of the octagon, you realize he really gets it, that he is a brand and you must sell your brand to the fans.
In 2005, Ortiz made several appearances at pro wrestling events working as a guest referee. With his experience in pro wrestling he was able to bring that concept of a heel vs. baby face to the cage. In 2006, he became the biggest pay-per-view draw in the UFC for his fights with Chuck Liddell, Ken Shamrock & Forrest Griffin. If there was a camera or microphone near by, Ortiz would call out his next opponent by either inviting him to the cage to fight at that moment (which he knew wouldn't happen), or he would challenge him to fight him on the next card.
I asked Ortiz if it was personal or was he just selling tickets when he would call out other fighters.
"I think the Shamrock deal in the beginning it was business, but then he started making it very, very personal," Ortiz said. "With Liddell it was business, but they took it to a personal level with me and it was strictly business to me. I tried to make sure that me and Liddell got paid big sums of money for our events."
UFC Heavyweight Brock Lesnar is the only other fighter today that can sell a pay-per-view event like Tito Ortiz could. That may be the reason why Ortiz is still fighting today, after a record of 0 wins, 4 losses and 1 draw in his last 5 fights. Any other fighter would have been release by the UFC.
The UFC tried to re-bottle the Ortiz vs. Liddell magic in the reality show "The Ultimate Fighter 11" series. But it was short lived, because Ortiz reveals that his doctors wanted him to have neck surgery immediately, and he had to leave the show. It was Ortiz's second time as a coach on the series. His first time was opposite Ken Shamrock in "The Ultimate Fighter 3" series.
Fighter Chael Sonnen has tried to duplicate Ortiz, by calling out fighters in every weight class. Ortiz once beat UFC fighter Jerry Bohlander, and wore a t-shirt after the fight which read "I just f**ked your a**". Over the years, Ortiz has worn t-shirts before and after his fights that had words that were antagonistic towards his opponents. But all to sell the next pay-per-view fight.
Ortiz started his own apparel business with his brand, Punishment Athletics MMA equipment and clothing line. He also opened a supplement line, Punishment nutrient, and Punishment Training Center, an MMA training gym located in Huntington Beach, California.
"I'm a business guy, I understand it and that is something I always been intrigued to do is to hustle, to hustle for my dollar." Tito said. "I really don't have much of a family to fall back on besides myself and I have three boys to take care."
Ortiz has really built his brand and the brand of the UFC. I asked him what's next if he loses his fight to Ryan Bader at UFC 132 on July 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
"Hopefully they give me a job in the UFC, helping to grow fighters into brands. Helping them make more money, we'll see what happens." Ortiz said. "I'm very positive about this fight and I know I'm going to win, so I'm not thinking about retiring at all."