Tuesday, Jul 01, 2003
Ortiz Announces Return To UFC 44;
Couture Set for Belt Unification Bout
By Loretta Hunt
(July 2, 2003) Via a lengthy, yet fruitful telephone conference call today, Zuffa Sports Entertainment made it’s first official announcements regarding it’s approaching event. UFC 44: Undisputed will be held on September 26, 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A venue for the show has yet to be secured, although UFC president Dana White was quick to add that various hotels/arenas are vying for the rights to host the event. Also present on the call, newly-crowned UFC interim light-heavyweight champion Randy Couture and current light-heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, who meet this September to "undisputedly" decide who can call themselves the champion in the 205-pound division.
Ortiz’s participation today marked an end to months of speculation (and silence on his part) as to if and when the champion would return to the UFC fold. With a much-publicized split from Zuffa pointing to contract renogiations and/or an unwillingness to fight number one contender Chuck Liddell, White made it clear today that Ortiz is returning to fight under the same contract he had previously signed with some added amendments. When asked what these modifications were, White refused to comment, instead focusing on Ortiz’s claims of injury and then entertainment commitments (Ortiz has been on location in Utah shooting The Crow: Wicked Prayers for the last two months) as reasons why the champion has not defended his title since November of 2002. Both Ortiz’s management, Extreme Promotions (also represented on the line), and White were quick to squash any comments regarding any past difficulties between them, even when media cited specific examples that have arisen in the past few months.
Setting a strong viewpoint off the bat, Couture was the first to comment on the upcoming bout. "I suppose I should thank Tito for creating this situation in the first place," he said, "and allowing me to come down from heavyweight and compete against Chuck. I think ‘undisputed’ is a great name for the title of this fight coming up. I don’t know about calling this championship that I hold right now an interim title because I was willing to step up and fight the guy that Tito didn’t really want to fight, and did so handily."
"It’s great to be here," replied Ortiz in his opening statement. "You guys are probably going to see one of the greatest fights in UFC history. Not only is Randy the ex-heavyweight champion, but now he’s going to be the ex-interim champion. I have nothing but respect for Randy, but once again, this belt is mine."
In addition, USA Today sports columnist and analyst Danny Sheridan was invited to lay out his odds for the upcoming bout. He has it 8 to 5 in favor of Ortiz.
But, the real tidbits came as the conversation progressed into a question and answer period where invited media were able to systematically make their queries one person at a time. Conversation leaned heavily towards Ortiz and his absence from the sport for the last eight months, particularly with his unavailability to face long-awaiting contender Chuck Liddell in the cage. "There was never one doubt of hesitation in Tito Ortiz at all," the Huntington Beach Bad Boy responded to questioning. "I had entertainment commitments I had to fulfill. It wasn’t a fact of that. It was a fact that we were making the right decisions for my career at this time. When Chuck Liddell took the fight with Randy Couture, I told myself and everybody around me to watch what happens and what happened was I was about $10,000 richer and I didn’t even have to fight." Pressed further to respond if he will fight Liddell eventually, Ortiz added, "If the time comes, I have no problem with it at all. It’s just the fact that I said, I have to make the right decisions for my career. I fight. I don’t do the contracts. I just step up and fight. So, when decisions come down, of course I am the last person to say, and I’m going to make the right decisions for my career."
Not to be left out of the loop, Couture was unafraid to voice his disdain with Ortiz for not taking the twice-proposed title fight with Liddell, spawning a verbal sparring session between Ortiz’s management and "The Natural" over who can really call themselves the UFC light-heavyweight champion. When Ortiz’s manager, Glenn McCusker encouraged White to clarify who the real champion is, Couture sternly chimed in, "I don’t think Dana needs to clear it up. We’ll clear it up this September." McCusker must have regretted pushing the subject any further, for Couture’s quips quickly had the manager against the fence with client Ortiz jumping in to save him.
"Your beating’s going to come soon enough. Don’t worry about it," retorted Ortiz. "But, the last time I looked, I still am the champ." Ortiz also commented that he felt disrespected by the decision to add an interim title to the division he had dominated for so long. "All of a sudden it put Tito out of the picture. All of a sudden, to me it seems like I’m now the challenger. Of course I am the champion, but it is a little silly now being the underdog."
Most importantly though, and seemingly lost a bit in today’s hoopla were White’s meaty comments that came much later in the conference regarding the UFC’s future. "We’re gonna start doing things differently," White divulged, comparing MMA to the hierarchy of boxing where certain fights are pay-per-view worthy, while others simply are not. "Some of the fights are going to be in smaller venues. We’re going to start restructuring the whole approach we’ve had on the UFC. Things are going to change a lot in the next year. The whole industry is going to get shaken up big time in the next year."
Compliments of White, additional highlights gleaned from today’s hour and a half press conference call included:
TITO ORTIZ, RANDY COUTURE TO DETERMINE TRUE LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP AT UFC 44:UNDISPUTED, SEPT. 26, IN LAS VEGAS
Two Goliaths Will Meet For The Ultimate Fighting Championship Title Live on Pay-Per-View
Ticket Sales, Arena to be Announced
LAS VEGAS, July 2, 2003…Ultimate Fighting Championship Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz will make his much anticipated return to the Octagon when he meets newly-crowned interim Champion Randy Couture for the uncontested title in the main event of UFC 44: Undisputed on Friday, September 26, from Las Vegas, Nev. UFC 44: Undisputed will be LIVE on pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. EDT. The on-sale date for tickets and the location of the fight will be announced.
Ortiz (11-2-0 in mixed marital arts) from Huntington Beach, Calif., gained significant media attention last November in his last UFC victory in Las Vegas when he fought mixed martial arts legend Ken Shamrock. Ortiz dominated the fight and won it when Shamrock could not continue after three rounds.
After completing motion picture theatrical projects, Ortiz is now ready to fight Couture (8-4-0) of Portland, Ore., after a nine-month absence. Couture, a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion, claimed the interim light heavyweight championship June 6 with a technical knockout victory over former number one contender Chuck Liddell and made history by becoming the only UFC fighter to win titles in two different weight divisions. And all of this just one week shy of his 40th birthday. [Watch UFC 43: Meltdown replays on DirecTV during July and August.]
Immediately after that fight, Couture, who is known as a "statesman" of the sport excited the near capacity crowd with his uncharacteristic challenge: "Tito, if you want this belt, you’ll have to come into the Octagon and take it."
So, Ortiz has accepted the challenge, signed the bout agreement and says he is ready to get back into the Octagon.
"I don’t think Randy is entitled to any kind of championship, much less an interim title, and I’m ready to prove who the real light heavyweight champion is," Ortiz said.
Couture says he doesn’t care what Tito thinks. "The fact is I fought, and beat, the long-time number one contender, Chuck Liddell, when Ortiz would not. I know the fans see me as the true light heavyweight champion. If Tito disagrees, he’s going to have to prove it," Couture said.
The remainder of the UFC 44: Undisputed card will be announced. The event will be seen on both cable and satellite television through providers such as: iNDemand, DirecTV, Dish Network, Echostar, TVN, Bell ExpressVu and Viewers Choice Canada. The suggested retail price will be $29.95.
posted by Full Contact Fighter @ 8:00 pm