Tito Ortiz - Shamrock First, Liddell Later
By Michael DiSanto
Back in October 2005, Tito Ortiz literally had no idea when, where or if he would fight next, as he was in virtual UFC exile due to an acrimonious contract dispute with the organization about, among other things, money.
It was a holdout that Ortiz admits was due, in large part, to miscommunication and receiving some bad advice from those handling his career at the time. But all that is water under the bridge at this point, as UFC President Dana White and Ortiz came to terms on a new deal back in November—a lifetime ago in the sport.
One year later, the 31-year-old is not only back in the Octagon competing more frequently than in any prior period of his career, he once again sits squarely in the UFC’s limelight, enjoying the fruits of the sport’s recent meteoric rise in popularity and reaping the rewards of that new contract.
Since returning to the Octagon last April, Ortiz has beaten top contender Forrest Griffin and bitter rival Ken Shamrock, both in record-breaking pay-per-view events, to extend his current win streak to four fights. The back-to-back wins, along with his three-month stint as a coach on the third season of Spike TV’s “The Ultimate Fighter,” reestablished “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” as one game’s biggest stars.
And he isn’t done with 2006 just yet.
Tomorrow night, Ortiz returns to face Shamrock live on Spike TV for the third and final installment of their longtime feud. Assuming that he doesn’t sustain any major injuries, he hopes to return in December to face Chuck Liddell for the UFC light heavyweight title, a belt that Ortiz held from April 2000 until September 2003.
Translated into more tangible financial terms, his first two fights in 2006 alone were sufficient to place Ortiz’s compensation among the top percentile of U.S. annual household incomes. When you add in the payday for tomorrow night’s bout, as well as the December title fight with Liddell, his 2006 prize money will fall just shy of one million dollars.
Not bad for a kid who spent some of his most informative childhood years living in a poor, gang-infested neighborhood in Santa Ana, California.
“I wake up every single morning and reflect on where I came from growing up and where I am now,” Ortiz admitted after one of his final training sessions before facing Shamrock. “I am blessed. I think there is someone upstairs looking over me and giving me everything out of life, as long as I keep my nose to the grindstone and keep working hard.”
It is a past that Ortiz refuses to shy away from, instead choosing to embrace it as a constant reminder to work hard and stay committed to succeeding in life—personally, professionally and financially.
“When I look in the mirror, I know that I came from dirt,” he continued. “I came from the streets. Both of my parents are drug addicts. I lived in cars, motels, in the back of people’s houses. But now I look in the mirror and realize that I’m somebody. Everybody in this world can have goals and dreams, and they can achieve those goals and dreams if they work hard enough. I came from nothing and I’ve done it. I smile every time I talk about it.”
To some, that may sound a bit disingenuous. After all, Ortiz has long been the UFC’s biggest star and among its highest paid athletes. What is so different now that he is one-year removed from his nine-month exile from the sport?
“A lot of things have changed since I returned to the UFC,” he explained. “Financially things are much different. I don’t have to worry about money any more. Celebrity-wise, it has changed a whole lot, as well. I can barely walk down the street to the store without someone asking me for a picture or an autograph. That sort of thing certainly happened before I returned to the UFC, but nowhere close to the frequency that it is happening now. And it isn’t just young people watching the sport, because grandmothers, grandfathers and parents are stopping me. It is crazy at times.”
Increased money and fame are great, but nothing in life is free, as Ortiz has come to realize in recent months.
“It’s weird because the sport has grown so much that being an ultimate fighter has such celebrity that people expect so much more from me now,” he said. “They expect me to take a picture or do an autograph no matter what I am doing or where I am. I might be out having a meal with my son or some friends and people expect me to take a photo or sign an autograph right at that moment, while I am eating. If I ask them to wait until I’m done, some fans want to know why I can’t do it right then.
“You know me. I’m happy to accommodate all the fans. You have seen me stand for hours and sign autographs until every single fan got one. But everyone needs moments of peace and privacy when they are out with friends and family. It is moments like that when the whole celebrity thing gets somewhat frustrating. It really gives you a glimpse of what a lot of these actors face on a daily basis. Sometimes it is impossible to do anything without getting interrupted.”
Ortiz was quick to state, however, that those frustrations are easy to deal with because he genuinely enjoys interacting with his fans—meeting them, signing autographs and taking pictures. But things cross the line into the realm of unacceptable when either fans or the media begin to invade the privacy of his personal life.
It is not a secret that Ortiz is no longer married and recently began dating the beautiful, intensely famous Jenna Jameson. Quite frankly, that is nobody’s business except theirs. Regardless, both fans and members of the media feel the need to voice their opinion on the situation, sometimes directly to Tito.
“Right now, people invading my privacy doesn’t bother me that much,” he claimed. “There are times, though, when we are out and people have walked up and snapped pictures without asking. That really gets to me because it is rude. At least ask to take a picture. Also, it bothers me when people bring up the situation between me and my ex-wife, asking how I could leave her for this and that or even commenting on the situation at all. People don’t understand what happened. They don’t understand the situation that I’m in or the situations that I’ve been through in my life. They just take it for granted that they can step into my business without even asking if it is cool to talk about that stuff. That just isn’t right.”
No, it certainly is not right. At the end of the day, none of that stuff should matter to fans. But in a society where reality television dominates the ratings, such voyeuristic intrusions are to be expected.
Despite all the intrusions into his private life, the interruptions of his personal time, and the demands on his time and attention, Ortiz insists that it is all worth it because his job and increasing celebrity status allows Tito to provide his son, Jacob Jr., with the type of financial comfort, freedom and support that he never had growing up.
“He’s a special kid,” Ortiz described. “He is smart, very polite and outgoing. I love him with all my heart. I only get to see him every couple of weeks because he lives with my ex-wife in Arizona. But I talk to him on the phone all the time. People don’t understand love until you have a kid. I want to make sure he has everything that I didn’t have as a kid. I want to make sure he has no financial worries at all and that he receives more love from both of us than any kid could ever want. He is what I live for, what I fight for.”
Oh yes, the fight. Tito Ortiz versus Ken Shamrock III will air live on Spike TV tomorrow night at 8pm ET/PT (tape delay on the west coast). When asked for a final thought about the matchup, Ortiz took a brief detour, just like any proud father still thinking about his growing boy.
“It was really funny because Jacob was up here last weekend,” he remembered. “My ex-wife was changing him, putting pants and a tee shirt on him, and he said, ‘Dad, this tee shirt doesn’t match.’ The kid is four years old. How does he know color coordination? It was incredible. I cracked up so hard.”
After a long laugh, a sudden perceptible change occurred in both the delivery and tone of his words. The emotion was gone. It was replaced by a sense of conviction. Ortiz spoke like there was no way in the world that he was going to let Shamrock somehow derail his title fight against Liddell—no way Tito would let his arch rival rob his son of the benefits of that future payday.
“I’m ready for Ken Shamrock,” he said. “This is my third fight this year. I’ve never really gotten out of shape. The longest I’ve been away from the gym is two weeks, so my timing is excellent. I’m 100-percent healthy. I don’t have anything bothering me at all. My hands look good. My ground game is better than ever. And my wrestling is back to where it was before. This is one of my biggest fights ever, and I’m ready for it. I’m going to beat Shamrock worse than the last two times, and then it is time for Chuck Liddell.”