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UFC 106:

Tito Ortiz set to end hiatus, return to where he belongs

Former light heavyweight champ hopes fill his old shoes, starting Saturday against Forrest Griffin

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Justin M. Bowen

Tito Ortiz poses for a portrait during the media day open workout at his training facility in Big Bear, Calif.

Tito Ortiz: Making A Comeback

Tito Ortiz prepares for his upcoming comeback fight with Forrest Griffin.

Tito Ortiz Workout

Tito Ortiz talks to the media during open workouts at his training facility in Big Bear, Calif. Launch slideshow »

Tidbits from Tito

  • Ortiz on Lyoto Machida's controversial victory over Shogun: I thought it was boring. I knew that was the fight I was going to see. Shogun's a tough guy, and he comes to fight, but Machida ... I showed when he has someone who's gonna challenge him, he runs. He looks for points and runs. That's not what MMA's about. It's not a boxing match. This is what fans love to watch. This is why they give millions of pay-per-view buys, sellout arenas with no problem, because people want to see someone get knocked out. Someone wants to see someone get damaged. And Machida runs. I tried to chase him down, and I made the mistake and that's how I lost, with the mistakes I made by reaching for him. I almost caught him in the last 15, 30 seconds or whatever, but I really look at the fight as I felt bad for Shogun. I really felt Shogun won, you know, I thought he won by strikes, leg kicks, he caused more damage, but as they say, you've got to take the title away from the champ. But when the champ runs, I think he lost a lot of fans. Me and Forrest will fill in those shoes. We're gonna put on an exciting fight, and that's what it's about.
  • Ortiz on Fedor's recent knockout victory over Brett Rogers in his Strikeforce Debut: It was Fedor. That's him, man. He's pretty cut and dry. That's just the way he is. He didn't really have that hard of a target to hit. Nothing against what's-his-face, but he really just stood there. He threw one shot, he busted up Fedor pretty good. I don't think Fedor would do good in the UFC. He's exposed. When you fight in a cage like this, it's a big difference from fighting in a ring. You get pressed against the fence, you get your head put against the fence, it's a big difference. This fence is actually a weapon. If you know how to use it, you can use it to your advantage. And Brett Rogers never used it to his advantage. I think he was a little intimidated by Fedor. But, Fedor just exposed him. That big, looping right hand, that's one thing you've got to look out for. It's the same thing with Chuck Liddell, with a big, looping right hand. If you can learn to get out of its way, you can learn to beat him. But until then, the question will still be there.
  • Ortiz on his game plan against Forrest Griffin: My game plan? It's gonna be exciting and I'm gonna try to hurt him. I'm gonna try to draw blood. I'm gonna make an exciting, grueling 15-minute fight. If he can last the 15 minutes, then my hand will be raised, and if not, the referee will be ripping me off of him. It's gonna be vicious. This is my comeback fight. I'm not gonna sit back and try to pick points just to win the match. I'm gonna go out and try to finish him. That's my job. My job is I want to get Knockout of the Night or Fight of the Night. I would love that.

BIG BEAR, Calif. — A converted garage located toward the back of the expansive, gated training camp Tito Ortiz utilizes in the chilly, thin-aired, mountainous setting of Big Bear, Calif., in a way, symbolizes everything he's accomplished in a decorated mixed martial arts career.

At the same time, it also symbolizes everything he hopes to add to that resumé upon his much-anticipated return to the UFC, which commences this Saturday night in his main event bout at UFC 106 with Forrest Griffin at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

This space has hardly ever been used like a traditional garage. Aside from a personalized, blacked-out Octagon and the standard weight equipment, the first thing to pop into sight is a black and white mural covering the entire back wall, including an image in the center of Ortiz hitting Griffin in their first meeting at UFC 59 on April 15, 2006.

On an adjacent wall is a mural of retired boxer Oscar De La Hoya, who used to retreat to the same spot to train for his own prize fights. Ortiz not only has long admired De La Hoya, but he's the one he purchased the property from roughly three years ago.

"Champions are born here, champions were made here," he said. "A very, very important part of my career is becoming a champion again. I invested a lot of money into this place, and I think really that this is what it's about. Putting in the hard work, getting away from the city, being as focused as possible.

"And it's pretty funny, because the house I sleep in is the same house that Oscar slept in, and I just sit there and think about how he probably went through a lot of the same things I go through during training, with the mental focus of a fight and everything. I'm still young at 34. (Randy) Couture started his career at 34. I've still got a good five more years left of fighting. Hopefully not much after that."

Since his departure

In the middle of the mural, the image of Ortiz slugging Griffin with a closed right fist — painted by a friend when Ortiz first acquired the camp — takes him back to when things didn't come so easy in the Octagon.

Ortiz defeated Griffin by split decision in their first meeting, despite lingering back pain and a knee with a partially torn MCL and an equally damaged ACL.

Following two subsequent victories over Ken Shamrock, Ortiz would lose in a light heavyweight title bout to Chuck Liddell at UFC 66, and following a draw against Rashad Evans at UFC 73 and a decision loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 84, Ortiz disappeared off the map. It came on the heels of his well-publicized beef with UFC President Dana White.

Despite being left in no man's land because of a clause in his old UFC contract that would not allow him to sign with or fight in any other organization, the time off turned out to be much-needed.

Ortiz, who said he'd dealt with the back issues for roughly five years, underwent back surgery last October in Las Vegas. Now, Ortiz says this is the healthiest he's felt going into a fight since he was preparing to take on Vitor Belfort on Feb. 6, 2005, at UFC 51.

Still, questions will linger on the outside regarding how well that back will hold up until Ortiz provides tangible evidence in the Octagon that it's no longer an issue.

"I'm done thinking about it," he said. "I've been slammed. We've pushed weight, pulled weight, we've squatted, we've ran hills, jumped, everything to test it. I've caught someone in a triangle, they picked me up and slammed me on this floor. Nothing. Having a new back is nice.

"It's nice to be strong. My legs are strong as hell underneath me, and it feels good. It feels really good to be in shape and to be able to push through these fights. I've got six fights left to push through and try to make my brand bigger than it already is. It's pretty big already, but I want to grow."

During his time off, in a professional sense, much of Ortiz's time was dedicated to getting his clothing line — Punishment Athletics —  off of the ground.

Now, he's getting back to what afforded him the opportunity to have a business venture in the first place.

That's sparked with a glance above the painting of him and Griffin doing battle, seeing an image of the Huntington Beach pier in California. In comes a reminder of just where — and what — he came from.

"A kid who came from the streets and lived in motels, cars, people's back yards, people's garages, to owning a house like this, owning a house in Huntington Beach, I've really worked hard," he said. "I think it's just an opportunity for me to grow. I've been in this sport for 12 years. You know, me and Randy Couture started our career on the same night. But I'm 11 years younger. So I plan on getting my world title back again. I was the longest reigning light heavyweight champion. And I want to be back in those shoes again."

It starts against Griffin

Ortiz knows just as much as anyone regarding how Griffin will come out for his first fight since a knockout loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 101 in August.

While Silva was remembered for his taunting of Griffin early and then his utter domination of the fight, Griffin was remembered for exiting the cage as quickly as possible once it was all said and done.

"You know, I feel bad for Forrest, because he had so much momentum on his side, for things like that, we all have losses," he said. "But when Forrest ran out, I think he let a bunch of his fans down. When I lost my biggest fights — I lost to Couture, lost my world title — I cried in the Octagon, because to me, it's like a loved one dying to me when I lose."

Already one of the best in the game when it comes to wrestling and working on the ground, in preparing for his comeback, Ortiz took up training with Freddie Roach — better known as the trainer of pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao — to polish up on his boxing skills.

Overall, Ortiz has looked like the fighter trainer Saul Soliz remembers from back when he held the light heavyweight crown for three years and endured five successful defenses of that title.

"Tito, physically — now that his injuries have been healed — is better than he was three or four years ago," Soliz said. "These are injuries that had direct effect on the outcome of the fights. I think now that he's 100 percent, he's definitely going to show the world what Tito Ortiz can do when he's 100 percent. He's definitely going to be stronger, faster and overwhelm the guys he fought previously as well as the up-and-comers that he may fight in the future."

Ortiz's confidence is at an all-time high despite having not fought in 18 months.

Again, he's not sure if confidence will wind up being an issue for Griffin. Then again, Ortiz doesn't really care.

"Lets see if he can handle the pressure," Ortiz said. "It shows that he can't handle the pressure, as he said in his interviews before, that he doesn't want to be a role model; he doesn't want people to look up to him. Well, I think you're in the wrong sport for that to happen.

"We'll see what Forrest shows up. Hopefully, the Forrest that shows up will give a great fight. I'm in shape. I'm ready to compete. I'm not worried about what he's thinking. I'm not worried about what he wants to do. I just know what I have to do, and that's win. And I'm gonna cause the most amount of damage in the quickest amount of time and have my hand raised hopefully."

Click to enlarge photo

Former adult film actress Jenna Jameson and Tito Ortiz at the 2 B Free fashion show at Boulevard3 night club in Los Angeles on Monday, March 19, 2007.

After 106?

Odds are that the next time Tito Ortiz takes an extended break from action in the UFC, it will be when he's announcing his retirement.

Whether that comes after six fights or further down the road is yet to be determined.

"I see it longer than six fights," he said. "You know, six fights to me, hopefully I'll get them done in a year-and-a-half. I want to do at least three, four fights a year. At least. Maybe, hopefully, if I've got a magic wand, I could wave the magic wand and by the age of 37 I'd be done. Hopefully I'd have enough money in my account to take care of my family forever and just try to invest as much as possible.

"I've been doing well so far, but there's a lot of bills still to be paid."

There's more mouths to feed now, too.

His relationship with former adult film star Jenna Jameson blossomed before his first run in the UFC came to an end, and now he's providing for a pair of 8-month-old twin boys.

He's also still helping raise his 7-year-old son, Jacob, who he had with his ex-wife. He's every bit the proud papa, smiling as he tells stories of the twins' early development and both Jacob's newfound love of soccer and the recent report card he brought home filled with A's.

"I try to work hard to provide for them," he said. "I'm a provider now. I'm not just the 'Huntington Beach Bad Boy' who kicks people's (expletive) and that's it. I've got a family to provide for. I've got to be motivated and make sure I work hard for my family."

That's part of the motivation for Ortiz leaving the mural of De La Hoya in moments of triumph on the wall in his training center.

Ultimately, he wants to be able to comfortably retire in the same fashion after a career filled with achievement. Reminders aren't just in the garage. Ortiz sleeps in a bed with a headboard that De La Hoya had his initials engraved into and left behind. A bench with De La Hoya's name etched into it still sits outside of the front door to the main cabin.

But he won't leave the Octagon for good without having plans for further success.

It involves expanding his impressive garage to nearly double its size, adding wrestling mats and a boxing ring. He'll eventually start renting the place out, and Ortiz said he might even talk to Dana White about trying to get a season of The Ultimate Fighter shot up at his Big Bear camp.

Either way, fighting will always put food on the table. Despite the hiatus from the UFC and the rapid growth the organization has seen in that small time frame, some things never change.

"I still have another three, four, maybe five more years of competition," he said. "I know for one that fighting is something I can do for the rest of my life. If it's not in the cage, it'll be in the board room, that's for sure."

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