By Simon Samano/@sjsamano
For FOX Deportes
Back in 2001, when he reigned as one of the most dominant light heavyweight champions in UFC history, Tito Ortiz took a trip to Mexico City, one you might call life changing.
Ortiz remembers visiting the Aztecs’ Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacán, and the connection he felt, then and there, to his Mexican heritage. It was this experience that prompted a change to Ortiz’s octagon entrance that has become his trademark ever since.
“I said, why do I just come out with the American flag?” Ortiz recently told FOX Deportes. “I’m Mexican-American, I’ve got Mexican sangre all through me, let’s put a Mexican-American flag together. I’m Mexican-American, I’m going to represent. I’m going to show our worth with hard work and dedication, no matter what job we do.
“I waive it proud and loud. We’re warriors. … I really take that to heart. I want to show we’re loud, we’re proud, and there’s no stopping us.”
For the last 15 years, mixed martial arts fans have felt strongly about Ortiz one way or the other. We’ve either loved or loathed the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy”. There is no in between.
This notion is especially true among Mexican fans. To us, Ortiz has either carried on the tradition of tough, proud Mexican fighting champions. Or he’s just a whitewashed poser who used his heritage merely as a way of appealing to a broader fan base.
Truth be told, the division likely started the moment this bleach-haired “pocho”, if you will, decided to walk to the cage with the Mexican flag (tied to an American flag) draped over his shoulder.
Whatever Mexicans think of Ortiz now as his career comes to a close this Saturday at UFC 148, he’s OK with it. All that matters to him is that he knows he’s in touch with his roots, regardless of who questions his authenticity.
“People who hate on me and say I’m just trying to do it as marketing, I’m not a real Mexican. How am I not a real Mexican?,” Ortiz said. “My last name is Ortiz. My father, my grandparents, they’re from Mexico City. I’m not fluent in Spanish — don’t matter. I still got (expletive) Mexican blood running through me. I’m an Ortiz.
“When I fight, I fight with heart. My trainers, my family, my close friends, they’ve seen the pain I’ve gone through. The only way to do that is to have Mexican blood in me.”
That was the only way Ortiz could get through his childhood.
He remembers the manual labor he performed as a kid. Before going to college, Ortiz used to work on fishing boats. He did framing and roofing on homes, all under the hot Southern California sun.
There was nothing easy about those jobs. Plowing through laid the foundation for his work ethic as a fighter, which was the catalyst to his Hall of Fame career.
“I’ve always been a person to step up in my job, whatever it is, and work as hard as I can. That’s the Mexican in me,” Ortiz said. “You see a lot of people who beg for money, but not us. We’re always trying to make a job, work hard and prove ourselves. We’ve got too much heart.”
Spoken like a man who’s proud of his heritage.