All Business Now for Liddell and Ortiz
By Thomas Gerbasi
It used to be personal between UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, former friends, training partners, and then enemies, who clashed in a memorable 2004 bout won by Liddell.
Now though, as the two prepare for their long-awaited rematch on December 30th, it’s strictly business.
“I'm just happy to be fighting again,” said Liddell at a press conference Saturday in the Grand Ballroom at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to officially announce the UFC 66 main event. “I love what I do, I love fighting, and I'm definitely going to love fighting Tito again.”
"Liddell is a great champion, but his time has come,” added Ortiz. “I'm ready to get my belt back.”
A lot has changed in the two years since the two first met. Mixed martial arts - formerly the favorite whipping boy of pro sports - is now a certified juggernaut, breaking down mainstream barriers almost daily.
It’s gotten so big that the December 30th card is expected to shatter records at the box office and over pay-per-view airwaves, leaving many in the boxing world with their mouths agape as the UFC continues to build on their ever-growing popularity.
"As regulators we look at the amount in gate being brought in, and it's always been boxing, and now mixed martial arts is right up there with boxing," said Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
And according to Craig Borsari, the UFC’s Senior Vice President of Operations and Production, fight fans have wasted no time in grabbing tickets for this pre-New Year’s Eve bash.
"This is really an exciting fight for us, one that's going to break records for us on several different fronts,” said Borsari. "Tickets went on sale at Noon Thursday, and as of an hour ago we've sold over 8,000 tickets. We are well on our way to a fast sell out."
But while many things have indeed changed since ‘The Iceman’s April 2004 stoppage of ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’, one constant remains, and that’s Liddell’s domination over the 205-pound weight class. After defeating Ortiz, Liddell has run off five wins, all by KO or TKO, over Randy Couture (twice), Vernon White, Jeremy Horn, and Renato Sobral.
Ortiz has not been waiting silently in the wings in the last 19 months though, as he has also put together a five fight winning streak with victories over Ken Shamrock (twice), Patrick Cote, Vitor Belfort, and Forrest Griffin. Nothing would mean more to him though than getting revenge against his former buddy.
"The first time we fought I was in an unhappy place and I didn't want to fight,” admitted Ortiz. “Now that times are better, I want to get back in the Octagon and continue to dominate."
Liddell, never one to back away from a challenge, eagerly obliged.
“"The biggest thing with my fans, they're always asking, ‘when are you going to knockout Tito again? So on Dec. 30 that will be for them."
Ortiz begs to differ.
“Dec. 30 is going to be Tito Ortiz's day, I guarantee it.”
GRIFFIN, JARDINE READY TO THROW DOWN – Also in attendance today in Las Vegas were two aspiring light heavyweight title challengers, Forrest Griffin and Keith Jardine, both alumni from ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show who are working their way up the ranks. They will meet on the UFC 66 televised undercard.
Griffin, best remembered for his war with Stephan Bonnar in 2005, knows that Jardine is not about to let him get away with an easy win.
"Every fight that Keith is in is a fight,” said Griffin. “Somebody ends up on the floor once or twice, somebody's always bleeding. I'm game for that."