Is Tito Ortiz Ready To Takemixed Martial Arts Into The Mainstream?
Is Tito Ortiz Ready to Take
Mixed Martial Arts into the Mainstream?
By Josh Gross
Huntington Beach, Calif. native Tito Ortiz defends his Light-Heavyweight Title for the third time Friday night, June 29th, in the Continental Airlines Arena against upstart Elvis Sinosic. It’s possible that his toughest opponent that evening will not be the dangerous Australian, rather Ortiz has to come to terms with being the "man" in the UFC and the pressure that accompanies it.
He’ll walk down the aisle to the Octagon with all eyes in the mixed martial arts world upon him knowing a win presents the chance for millions of Americans to have his image ingrained in their minds much like Royce Gracie’s was. "Yes I do," he said when asked if he looks forward to being the marquee fighter in MMA. "I believe I have a lot of people to uphold and show that this sport has come a long way. We’re going to take over when we go mainstream. The people from Zuffa have done a good job of promoting the sport and the fighters. I’m here to set an example, and that is to be the best in the world."
It was obvious from Zuffa’s first effort at UFC 30 that Ortiz would be the man they hitched their wagon to. With lasers beaming, music screaming and fireworks blasting, Ortiz explosively dispatched challenger Evan Tanner in 30 seconds with a slam that signaled the beginning of a new era. The devastating win, combined with his first title defense against Yuki Kondo, meant Ortiz had spent a total of 2 minutes 22 seconds in the ring as UFC champion. His performances have been so dominant that his name is now being mentioned among the top fighters in the sport for pound-for-pound honors.
It is hard to ignore how impressive his last two fights have been, ironically winning isn’t what caused Ortiz to realize how good he could become. "When I lost to Frank Shamrock," said Ortiz when asked when he came to the realization he could become the best in the world. "It wasn’t serious to me; it was more recreational. It wasn’t even considered a professional job for me. Once I lost to Frank Shamrock, knowing that I lost because I got tired, that’s when the desire was burning in my body. I told myself, ‘you’re never going to lose again, ever, ever, ever.’ There are going to be a few people coming up that are better than me and I just have to work hard, hope for the best, and expect the worst."
I witnessed Ortiz’ effort and hard work firsthand as he trained two sessions for nearly five hours last Wednesday. While others broke training for water, oxygen or to vomit, Ortiz was unrelenting in his training and attitude. As fatigue sank into his muscles, the 25-year-old picked up the pace and, like a scene out of "Rocky," bellowed, "Elvis, you want some, come get some" over and over. The angst he felt after losing to Shamrock has turned into pure motivation. While some athletes fight for the paycheck, Ortiz truly relishes what does as a fighter.
"I refuse to lose," he says. "Losing is probably the worst feeling you could get in your body. Watching Tank [Abbott] lose and John Lober lose, because they weren’t ready for the athlete they were fighting, automatically triggered in my mind, ‘well you can be the best in the world as long as you set your mind to it and just go out there trying to achieve stuff.’ Every single time I fight, I train as hard as I can. I’m trying to make it a scientific routine putting everything together and picking people’s brains. That’s what I do when I go around training with people; I pick their brains and get the best out of what they have to show to me."
His fight with Sinosic was not set up devoid of controversy. Many speculated as to why Sinosic — a man with one fight in the UFC, a win over Jeremy Horn, and a close decision loss to Frank Shamrock — deserved a shot at the UFC Light-Heavyweight Title. The world will find out Friday whether or not the match up was truly worthy, but don’t ask Ortiz if he thinks Sinosic is a tough opponent because all you need to do is watch him train for 15 minutes to figure that out.
"His grounds skills are really, really good," said Ortiz about the rugged Aussie. "I think this will be the guy with the best ground skills that I’ve faced so far, so I’m just going to have to put a game plan together and make it Tito Ortiz’s match right off the bat. A lot of these guys at light-heavyweight are skilled at one particular thing; I have an average skill at everything, not a lot of skill in any particular one. Elvis has a lot to gain and nothing to lose for this fight. I hope he comes at me because I’m ready for him"
The fight is intriguing because no one knows how good Sinosic really is. The same can be said for Ortiz, but as champion he goes in a favorite — a role he’s still unsure of. "It worries me a little bit, but not that much," says Ortiz regarding the underdog status of Sinosic. "When it’s time to train I push my body harder, but when it’s time to fight I know that I’m mentally and physically ready. I’m just going to walk right through him. He’s going to be a super-tough match. All the other guys I’ve fought have been real tough matches, but I’ve just come out prepared and been ahead of everyone of their steps."
One thing he had not confronted in any of his opponents thus far was a man of equal size. Ortiz, a huge light-heavyweight, won’t have the advantage he has used so successfully in other fights when he faces Sinosic. "I think it will be better for me," he said about Sinosic’s size. "I have a lot of problems with smaller guys because they are quicker, but guys that are longer, I can use my quickness. I believe he’s a little heavier than me — around 212 — and I’m only 206, so weight is not a factor for me anymore. I like longer and taller guys so I can get on the inside of them, and I know he wants to get on the inside and pull it to the ground, but we’ll see. I’m going to put a show on for all my fans. I see myself as a gladiator to show the spectators the sport, and that’s what I’m here to do."
While this self-proclaimed "gladiator" had been relegated to fighting in front of no more than 5,000 people in the past, he’ll have the opportunity to show his wares in front of the largest potential crowd to ever witness mixed martial arts competition on U.S. soil. The Continental Airlines Arena, home to the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and NBA’s New Jersey Nets, will trim down to 13,000 seats for the UFC, and Ortiz realizes how important it is to put on a good show. Will the pressure of headlining the largest MMA show in U.S. history effect him? "Each and every one of these fights is so much pressure for me, but usually the last week before a fight I get good sleep," he said. "I lose a lot of sleep a month or three weeks before. I know the UFC has a lot of good plans for the future, and they want to invest a lot of money in me."
He’ll have to win in order to be included in the UFC’s immediate plans, which, if all goes well, will include a show in Las Vegas this September. Which fighters in his division would Ortiz want to face if he gets the opportunity? "I don’t think anyone poses a threat, but people like Vitor Belfort, Vanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell — who I think is the toughest guy I’d have to face," he said. "Chuck and I talked about fighting and if the money is right we’ll fight each other, but until then we’ll sit back and pick apart every one of these light-heavyweights. The person I want to shoot for now is Vitor Belfort. He’s someone everyone looks up to and they say how big a phenom he is. I want to prove them wrong; he’s just a boxer with light jiu-jitsu skills. He’s a super-tough fighter, but Tito Ortiz will destroy him."
First things first for Ortiz, he must stay focused on Sinosic. While he’s physically gifted, in incredible condition and intent on being the "man" in MMA, Ortiz feels the intangibles he takes into the ring on Friday may prove to be the difference in the fight. "My best weapon is taking my opponent’s soul right off the bat," Ortiz said. "I look into his eyes and make sure he knows this is my match. I like setting the tempo right away and showing my presence. I fight off of pure emotions, and my heart and my mind never stop. A lot of fighters don’t want to fight me and I feel sorry for them, but this is a professional sport and each and every guy goes out there to fight. Hopefully they’ll give me the best matches to show this sport is for real."
From the event’s promoter:
The Lucky Eagle Casino & Matt Hume
W A R R I O R’ S R E V E N G E
UFCF & Washington State sanctioned
Professional Kickboxing & Pankration
Date: July 21, 2001
Muay Thai match #2 (5 rounds Muay Thai)
Pankration match #3 (3 5-min rounds Pankration)
Kickboxing match #4 (5 rounds Kickboxing)
Pankration match #5 (3 5-min rounds Pankration for U.S. #1 ranking)
Kickboxing match #6 (5 rounds Kickboxing for U.S. #1 ranking)
Pankration match #7 (5 5-min rounds Pankration North America Championship)
Charlie "Mr. Perfect" Pearson (Everett, WA)
Josh "The Baby Faced Assassin" Barnett (Seattle, WA)
Chauncy Welliver (Spokane, WA)
Roman "The Russian Assassin" Roytberg (Bellevue, WA)
Jeff "The Rhino" Monson (Olympia, WA)
Scott Schaefer (Bellevue, WA)
Dennis "Superman" Hallman
Dan Shank (Prince George, Canada)
John Gerking (Burien, WA)
Danny "Boy" Bennett (Federal Way, WA)
Chris "The Mauler" Monson (Everett, WA)
Dan "The Crusher" Corpstein (Bend, Oregon)
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