Thursday, July 14, 2011 | noon
The decadelong saga between UFC President Dana White and Tito Ortiz has taken another unforeseen turn.
Two weeks after White was nearly certain he would fire the former UFC light heavyweight champion, Ortiz is the equivalent of the promotion’s employee of the month. Ortiz accepted a last-minute fight against Rashad Evans in the main event of UFC 133 on Aug. 6 in Philadelphia, putting him in the good graces of a boss he’s frequently clashed with.
“Tito and I will always have that kind of relationship,” White said Thursday. “But if Tito stays on the path he’s on now, the new Tito is awesome.”
White detailed the series of events that led to the 36-year-old Ortiz stepping in for Phil Davis on the upcoming fight card, during a conference call Thursday.
According to White, the 26-year-old Davis suffered a knee injury that would prevent him from training in kickboxing for 2 1/2 weeks. Although Davis still wanted to fight, White told him, “no way, kid.”
Ortiz, less than two weeks removed from a first-round submission win over Ryan Bader at UFC 132, was the first fighter White called as a potential replacement. But Ortiz initially turned down the opportunity.
That brought the UFC to another former champion, Lyoto Machida, who accepted the bout. But after further consideration, Machida and his team told White he would only take the matchup if paid similarly as his teammate — UFC middleweight Anderson Silva.
That demand has White talking about Machida the way he used to address Ortiz.
“What makes you think you deserve Anderson Silva money? You haven’t accomplished anything near what Anderson Silva has accomplished,” White said. “I think it’s completely disrespectful and a slap in the face to us and Anderson Silva — very weird and very unlike Lyoto Machida.”
White was considering asking Vladimir Matyushenko, when Ortiz called back. Ortiz said he would reconsider and after conferring with his team, agreed to the match.
“Here’s a guy who went the other way, never worked with us, was always causing problems and, in my opinion, would step over dollars to pick up dimes,” White said of Ortiz. “He’d make all these horrible decisions. And now all of a sudden, he’s a guy who is not only easy to deal with, but wants to get out there and stay active and fight. I like it.”
On the surface, it appears the UFC has a more marketable but less competitive main event. Ortiz still resonates with fans and should boost pay-per-view buys and ticket sales, but oddsmakers posted the Evans vs. Davis matchup as a near pick ’em.
Ortiz is as high as a 5-to-1 underdog against Evans. But, as White pointed out, Ortiz had the same price attached to him entering the Bader fight.
“He’s got that ‘it factor’ is what I call it,” White said. “When he walks into a room, he’s got that personality and people are just drawn to him whether they hate him or like him. People care one way or the other. When you’re in the fight business, that’s all that matters.”
Machida had an altogether different reputation. He was never a disliked figure to fans, and to anyone’s knowledge, hadn’t gotten into any disputes with White.
His reversal of fortune is another surprising element of the situation.
“This guy was telling me all he wanted to do was get back in there and fight as soon as possible,” White said. “Well, he had his opportunity.”
In the case of UFC 133, the longtime villain stepped in and became the hero. White had to repeat himself multiple times to believe it — Ortiz came to the rescue.
“I think everybody is as shocked as I am,” White said. “I hear you.”