Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 | 11:48 p.m.
- Complete Coverage: UFC 106
- UFC 106 predictions
- Breaking down UFC 106: Tito Ortiz v. Forrest Griffin
- Video: UFC 106 pre-fight press conference
- Forrest Griffin: Life's good, I'm very happy with life in general
- Tito Ortiz ready to return to where he belongs
- Unlike last fight, Anthony Johnson should have no weight problem
- Josh Koscheck ready and willing for showdown with Johnson
- Amir Sadollah, Phil Baroni in similar situations leading up to fight
Anyone who has ever taken Interstate 15 into Las Vegas at night knows exactly the scene Tito Ortiz described to media members earlier this week.
Driving into the city at 4 a.m. Wednesday from his training camp at Big Bear, Calif., Ortiz said the reality of his comeback to the UFC after a 18-month layoff began to set in when he saw the lights in the horizon.
“I was coming down the 15 from Big Bear and I started to see the lights of Vegas,” Ortiz said. “I got that butterfly feeling again. I just thought, ‘Alright, it’s time to perform.’”
Ortiz already holds a special spot in mixed martial arts history in Las Vegas, as he earned a unanimous decision over Vladimir Matyushenko at the main event of UFC 33 on Sept. 28, 2001 — the first UFC event ever held in the city.
“I was the first main event when the UFC first came here so this is kind of like a homecoming to me,” Ortiz said. “Las Vegas is my home away from home. I’ve been fighting here since the UFC has been here and when I’m here, I’m always treated like I’m home.”
With so many memories already made in the city, Ortiz will look to make one more Saturday when he makes his return to the UFC in a light heavyweight bout with Forrest Griffin at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Although disagreements with UFC President Dana White were the cause of Ortiz’s decision to part ways with the organization 18 months ago, the layoff actually turned into an opportunity for the fighter to undergo a much-needed back surgery.
According to Ortiz, problems with his back began immediately after a five-round war he had with Randy Couture in Las Vegas in 2003.
Even though he fought through the issues, Ortiz said his back kept him from feeling 100 percent in every fight since then.
“When I fought (Vitor) Belfort I was probably only 80 percent,” Ortiz said. “When I fought (Lyoto) Machida I was probably 85 percent. It was just the takedowns. After the surgery I put about 2.5 inches back on my legs just because I was able to squat again.”
Ortiz is sure that his healthy legs will lead him to a second victory over Griffin, another fighter with strong ties to Las Vegas.
Griffin, who lives in Las Vegas and splits training between Xtreme Couture and Warrior Training Center, lost a very close split decision to Ortiz in his third fight with the UFC.
After the first fight was over, Griffin held his hand up with five fingers, signaling his wish that the fight could have continued another two rounds.
At the UFC 106 pre-fight press conference on Thursday, Ortiz said that 3.5 years later and an 18-month layoff of his own, Griffin would have his wish.
“Forrest said he wanted two more rounds, well now he gets them,” Ortiz said. “And if he survives them he may even get a third.”
Ortiz has never had sloppy standup by any means, but that didn’t stop the former light heavyweight champ to seek out the tutelage of the legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach.
After that kind of training, it’s unlikely that Ortiz won’t want to at least test his standup on Saturday.
“It seems like a good thing to do,” said Griffin, on Ortiz’s decision to train with Roach. “I’m excited to see what he brings to the table.”
That said, Ortiz is tied for the second-most takedowns in UFC history and will probably look to take the fight to the ground at some point.
When the fighters are on their feet, look for Griffin’s usual arsenal of mixed punches and plenty of kicks.
Griffin has actually landed more leg kicks than any other fighter in UFC history, although Ortiz says he is aware of that and ready to use it against him.
“Let’s see if he can defend the shot when he kicks, because every time he kicks, he’s going to get taken down,” Ortiz said. “A lot of fighters don’t take advantage of that, when they see the kick they check it. To hell with that, I’m putting on him on his back.”
Griffin responded to Ortiz’s claim with his usual sarcastic approach.
“It’s true. I’m going to have to throw ninja dust in his face every time I kick him,” Griffin said.
Last Time Out:
Ortiz: Unanimous decision loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 84.
Griffin: First round knockout loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 101.
The Line: Ortiz minus-110; Griffin minus-120
Ortiz: On recent controversial decisions: In my mind, I have to finish this fight. I watched the Couture fight (UFC 105) and thought, ‘Wow, they just gave one to Randy.’ Either I have to finish it or win decisively. I respect Forrest but this is a business and I ain’t going to get punked for my lunch money.
Griffin: On recent controversial decisions: I’d take a controversial decision. If I could get one of those that would be just fine. Because I know I’m going to fight my (expletive) off. He’s coming into this fight ready to go. I’m going to get thrown on my head, punched, kicked, elbowed — and I’m going to do all those things back to him.
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].