TORONTO -- When you get to be a fighter of Tito Ortiz
's age and stature, there's really no escaping these kinds of questions. Not for long, anyway. People see you fighting into your mid-30s with mixed success and they want to know, how long can he keep this up? Perhaps what they really want to know is, how long does he think
he can keep this up?
In other words, it's the kind of question where you don't necessarily expect an honest or even realistic answer. Maybe that's why Ortiz's response at Wednesday's UFC 140
open workouts was so surprising.
"May 30, 2012," he told reporters. At first it sounded like a joke. As if he was getting intentionally overly specific to mock the idea that something like this could be planned. After all, May 30 is a Wednesday. Is he going to end his career with a sparring session?
Then he kept going, and it became clear: Tito is serious about this.
"That'll be 15 years," Ortiz said of the May 30th mark. "15 years has been my goal. I make it to 15 years, that'd be my second fight, finishing this contract, maybe it's time to hang up the gloves, walk away while I'm still healthy. I don't want to get any more surgeries. I have three boys. I have a family to take care of. I've made enough money to take care of my family now."
And when you think about it, that's the reasonable response. If anything, maybe it's too reasonable. After some of his contemporaries have been dragged kicking and screaming from the sport, who would have guessed that Ortiz would be the level-headed one to set a date? Who would have guessed that Ortiz would be the one to realize about himself exactly what others have said of guys like Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva?
"What else do I got to prove?" Ortiz said. "I don't have to prove anything else in this MMA world."
But then, it's one thing to set a date, and another thing entirely to keep it. Fighters think retirement sounds difficult in theory, but it's nothing compared to the real thing. Many a pugilist has hung up the gloves, only to take them down and put them back on when the rocking chair didn't prove to be as satisfying as they thought.
Ortiz says the date is "set in stone in my own mind," and you have to admit he has some good reasons. The surgeries have piled up lately, his neck is an almost constant concern, and there's the very real chance that he might stick around too long and do something to himself that cannot be undone. As he explained, he'd like to be able to play catch with his boys somewhere down the line, rather than grinding every last ounce of usefulness out of his body in pursuit of a paycheck he doesn't really need at this point.
He doesn't expect retirement to come easy, he said, "but I don't want to disrespect the sport. I don't want to stay over my welcome. I want to make sure I walk away healthy. It's a family decision for me."
He even has an idea of how he'd like to go out between now and May 30 of next year, regardless of how Saturday night's fight against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
"My last fight I would love to be against Forrest [Griffin]," he said. "I think I deserve that. I beat him the first time. The second time we fought, I beat him and they gave it to him. Let's do three of a kind."
What, you thought just because he was leaving, he was going to stop being "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy"? He might have the self-awareness to see for himself when the ride is over, but that doesn't mean he's going to start acting like the sport's elder statesman just yet.
But you have to give him credit -- or at least you will if actually sticks to his own plan. So many of his peers haven't been able to recognize the end for what it is, even when it's staring them in the face. Ortiz could go on, but that doesn't mean he has to. Not after the time he's put in, and the toll it's already taken on him.
"15 years is a long time," he said. "To get up and do what I do every single day for 15 years, it's hard."
After that long, waking up on the morning of May 31 and figuring out what to do next might not be so easy either.