NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Tito Ortiz didn't hesitate Monday when he was asked when he started to come around on the idea of making a return to mixed martial arts competition.
"It came when the handcuffs came off me July 7," Ortiz bluntly stated.
That's far from a random date. July 7 marked a year to the day after what was billed as the Huntington Beach, Calif. native's final fight, a controversial decision loss to Forrest Griffin.
It also marked the moment Ortiz was free from commitments to the company in which he earned his fame, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Less than a month later, Ortiz sat in a crowded conference room at Bellator MMA headquarters, with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney to his right, hosting a press conference to hype Ortiz's fight with Jackson in nearby Long Beach on Nov. 2.
"That's when the handcuffs came off me," Ortiz said. "On July 7 I got a call from Bjorn, my [UFC] contract was done. July 8, I came in and we met. We sat down, we hashed it out in a week, got it done."
Of course, the former UFC light heavyweight champion didn't just wake up on July 7 and suddenly decide he wanted to fight a fellow former champion. This was clearly something that was building.
"The company that I was with, I had to beg to be with it," Ortiz said. "I had to beg to be a part of it. A whole year went by and I waited and I no longer could wait anymore."
Much like Rampage's debut press conference with Bellator two months to the day prior, Monday's presser turned into something of a therapy session for Ortiz, who clearly feels he was used up and spit out by his former employer, the UFC, and former boss Dana White.
"When I had someone barking at me, yelling at me, talking s--- the whole time, I don't want to be around that," Ortiz said. "Negativity just sucks the life out of somebody. Here at Bellator, with Viacom, this sport is just going to get bigger."
Like Rampage before him, Ortiz enters Bellator feeling like he's found a promoter who is looking to do right by him.
"I fought with integrity and heart and determination like no fighter has ever done," Ortiz said. "I've been through every surgery that any athlete has ever been through and I've prevailed through it. I'm healthy, my mind is in a good place, I have a both that I don't have to fight with that has my back, a company that has my back. I don't have a relationship that drags me down. I have a family that has my back, I'm in a good place mentally, physically and emotionally."
Of course, any time a fighter comes out of retirement, speculation on their motivation is soon to follow. In Ortiz's case, rumors about financial ill health abounded, largely fanned by White, who claimed Ortiz needs the money.
Ortiz emphatically denied the Nov. 2 fight is a cash grab.
"How do you feed your children or your family?" Ortiz asked. "My kids are going to get paid either way. I was smart enough to save my money. I invest. The biggest thing you can invest is something they don't have a lot of, is land. I own a lot of it. Right now it's about making history. It's about making another brand. It's about a company that I put 15 years into that shut me out and turned me down. Now I'm with another, I'm going to do exactly the same thing."
The competitive fire's never quite extinguished in an athlete who once had the drive to make it to the top. Ortiz made it clear his trilogy loss to Griffin last July, a bout many feel he should have won, has been eating at him ever since.
"My last fight left a bad taste in my mouth," Ortiz said. "I thought I won the fight. When you drop someone twice and take them down four times and smash their face and they go run out of the cage crying ... I don't understand how you lose the fight."
But can he still get it done in the cage? Many have been quick to point out that Ortiz is 1-7-1 in his past nine fights. And the 38-year-old Ortiz's litany of surgeries have become an industry punchline over the years. He's just three months removed from an ACL replacement.
But Ortiz said that after a year away from action, he's ready to go.
"My latest surgery was 12 weeks ago, an ACL replacement," Ortiz said. "I was back after a month. Month and a half Iwas back to drilling again. My body recovered super fast. Of course, the last year I ended up having neck surgery. My body recovered fast. I'm still young. I have good blood."
And good will with Bellator. Like Rampage before him, Ortiz is all about the positive vibes as he starts fresh with a new employer.
"I'm really excited to fight in Bellator," he said. "I got an offer I couldn't refuse for my future, not only my kids, my family, but my legacy of what I've done in mixed martial arts. I've tried to do everything under the sun to get where I am today. Everything I have is because of the sport."