Recently I had the opportunity to meet UFC fighter Tito Ortiz. He was in Vancouver to do a two day fan signing for a local Popeye’s supplements. I’ve been a fan of Tito’s since he made his debut at UFC 13 on May 30, 1997. I was a little apprehensive about meeting him since I tend to find our hero’s are not who we think they are. I have to say that Tito exceeded my expectations in every way. I’ve been to many signings in my life but never have I met a more professional and cordial athlete. He was in great spirits as he met with the fans and signed autographs for six hours over the two days. Some athletes have very strict rules on what they will sign but Tito was more that happy to sign everything from T-shirts, books, photos, and even video games (I had Tito sign a couple of Call of Duty games for me, since he loves the game I figured it would give him a laugh). Tito (16-10-1) is preparing for what looks to be his final fight against rival Forrest Griffin (18-7-0) at UFC 148 on July 7, 2012. It was nice to get a chance to see him as he prepares for what must be a major moment in his life. This got me thinking about his legacy in the UFC and in MMA overall, a sport most new fans don’t realize he was instrumental in keeping alive.
The truth is that most fans of the UFC have all come as a result of the success of the Ultimate Fighter series on Spike TV (now on F/X). Most of these new fans do not realize how Zuffa and the UFC struggled in the years leading up to their mass market breakthrough with TUF 1, or how Ortiz was monumental in keeping the company alive in those dark times. Tito, for many years, was Zuffa’s biggest gate and Pay Per View draw, helping to keep the company up and running as MMA was under attack by the mainstream media as human cock fighting and a glorified backyard brawl. Tito’s legendary rivalries with Frank and Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, and Randy Couture were must see TV for any sports fan. No one to this day can sell a fight and generate interest like Tito can. Watching Ortiz should be mandatory learning for any young fighter breaking into the business and hoping to establish their own brand in the sport. Fact…….nobody does business like Tito Ortiz.
However aside from the resume, the more interesting part of the story is the man himself. Coming from a troubled, impoverished childhood Tito has risen above his beginnings and built his Punishment athletics brand into a major success. As a man he can be proud of the legacy he is leaving for his three children. Ortiz is one of the most vulnerable and honest athletes alive today. His Twitter feed provides a shocking look behind the curtain you rarely see with a pubic figure today. He shows the struggles with family life and relationships we all go through, but most of us don’t have the courage to admit. Because of his incredible openness and honesty Ortiz has been the victim of harassment and trolling online, as with all challenges he has faced though he shrugs it off and continues to be there for his fans.
Tito Ortiz is a polarizing figure, you will find almost as many fans who dislike him as like him. No matter what side of the fence you are on, it is impossible to deny his impact on the sport. In my opinion, Tito is the definition of a Hall of Famer, his legacy goes so far beyond wins and losses it’s staggering. In my mind Ortiz is the definition of a hero. He is a man that has made many mistakes, faced many wins and many losses in life but has always come out a better man with his head up high.
Tito thank you for all you’ve done for the sport, you are the People’s Champion…………see you in the Hall of Fame.