By Simon Samano/@sjsamano
For FOX Deportes
Tito Ortiz wore socks and wrestling shoes when he made his UFC debut. That’s how far back his mixed martial arts career goes.
The legend began on May 30, 1997 at UFC 13. The pay-per-view event, held at the Augusta Civic Center, featured two four-man tournaments (lightweight and heavyweight), two alternate fights, and a huge main event between Vitor Belfort and Tank Abbott.
Ortiz was just an amateur, but he easily defeated Wes Albritton by TKO in the lightweight alternate bout. In that fight Ortiz gave us a taste of what was to come, finishing Albritton in just 31 seconds with a ground-and-pound onslaught that we soon would grow accustomed to seeing.
With the win, and Enson Inoue forced to withdraw because of injury, Ortiz earned a spot in the tournament final against Guy Mezger. Ortiz got caught in a guillotine choke and was forced to submit to 2 minutes into the first round, but this night was just the beginning.
The beginning of an illustrious 15-year, 27-fight UFC career that comes to an end Saturday night at UFC 148 against Forrest Griffin — but not without becoming the eighth fighter inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Ortiz, 37, takes great satisfaction in joining the elite company of Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Royce Gracie, Matt Hughes, Chuck Lidell, Dan Severn, and Ken Shamrock.
“Being in the Hall of Fame, it’s great recognition,” Ortiz recently told FOX Deportes, “because I’m known as one of the greatest mixed martial artists and UFC fighters ever to grace the octagon. And that’s been my goal since Day 1. It’s not about the money or the fame. It’s about having a name behind me and knowing that I’ve worked super hard to make that happen.”
Between his accomplishments and what he’s meant to the growth of mixed martial arts, there’s no denying the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” has done plenty to warrant his inclusion.
Ortiz put together one of the most dominant title runs in UFC history. He won the light heavyweight championship from Wanderlei Silva at UFC 25 and held onto the belt for more than three years before losing it to Lidell at UFC 44.
When Zuffa bought the UFC in January 2001, they looked to Ortiz to be the face of the company. He gladly accepted the role and headlined three of the first four pay-per-views during Zuffa’s first year of ownership.
In a nutshell, Ortiz was to the UFC what Hulk Hogan was to the WWF. If the epic Season 1 “Ultimate Fighter” finale between Stephan Bonnar and Griffin was responsible for taking the UFC into the mainstream, it’s only because Ortiz carried the franchise on his back for so long.
That’s what makes UFC president Dana White’s comments that Ortiz has “never been about the company of the UFC” so out of bounds. Ortiz helped to build the company, but he never stopped looking out for himself — and later his wife and kids — first and foremost.
Ortiz creatively branded and marketed himself to make sure he got his, and White always had a problem with that. That led to a very public feud that severed the relationship between the two.
Yet, White has done what’s right in putting Ortiz in the Hall. It’s where he belongs.
“The bad blood between me and Dana, it’s business. No more than that,” Ortiz said. “I don’t have a manager. I am my own manager. I have an attorney, and I have a publicist. We work together, and my job is to be a household name. I’ve done that.
“Thanks to UFC, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertita for making that happen to me. If it wasn’t for them, I couldn’t be the Tito Ortiz people love and try to inspire to be like.”