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Tito Ortiz Sounds Off on Retirement, Cyborg-Rousey, Jones and New Business Ventures

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

For Tito Ortiz, the fact that he will never again fight has mostly sunk in by now. His brain still thinks he can do it, he sometimes dreams about it, but his body has the final word, and that word is an emphatic no.

After more than 15 years of mixed martial arts training and competition, his body is tired. It's aching and in some places, it's broken. Everyday, he wakes up with pain and soreness. He needs ACL reconstruction surgery in his right knee. He needs surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck, but he wants to wait until after fishing season is over to schedule anything that's going to have him laid up for too long.

"I'm just sick of having surgery," told MMA Fighting. "I'm just sick of the pain."

If the image of Ortiz lazing around in a fishing boat paints a picture of a life of leisure in retirement, nothing could be further from the truth. During his career, Ortiz was always a man looking for outside opportunities. Now free from the daily grind of training, he has ramped up his efforts.

In just the last month, he has announced the formation of a management company named Primetime 360, as well as an amateur MMA fight series in California named Rising Stars. Ortiz also owns a clothing line, nutrition supplement company and a training center.

The hope is that his expanding pursuits put him squarely on the front lines of a growing sport.

When he began his own career in 1997, he competed at UFC 13 as an unpaid amateur. By the time he retired, he was a multi-millionaire. Along the way, there were highs and lows, from winning the UFC light heavyweight championship and becoming one of the biggest draws in the history of the business to feuding with the company owners and being frozen out for a time.

Ortiz has two favorite memories. The first was winning the belt in April 2000. The second came 11 years later, when he upset Ryan Bader to snap a winless streak that lasted through nearly five years, two surgeries and one contract dispute.

"I wasn't there to prove anybody wrong," he said. "I was there to prove all my fans and my family right."

That final moment of glory couldn't completely erase some of the setbacks he'd had along the way, but it at least offset them. His lowest point came during his feud with UFC management, and what he calls the "propaganda" against him when it was portrayed that he was afraid to fight Chuck Liddell.

"If I was scared, I wouldn't have fought him twice," he said. "I wanted to be the best, but it is a business. I wanted to make the right amount of money that I thought I was worth. I really stood my ground."

In those stressful stretches of time, the seeds were planted for a future in the management business, a venture that could capitalize on his own experiences and contacts. His first signing was a big one, the former Strikeforce women's featherweight champion Cris Cyborg.

"It's going to take a little bit of time as I have to prove my worth," he said. "I'm starting by working with Cris. I know she had problems last year but I’m willing to put my name on her and revamp every idea she's ever thought she had to become the champion again. I'm going out and looking to get the next best fighters and giving them opportunities. I’m not going to promise them the world, but I’ll promise them the opportunity to get the world. If you have opportunity and you take it and grab it, you can find success. That’s the way life is. You've got to have the opportunity and I’m going to give that to a lot of fighters."

Cyborg is in one way a curious first client for Ortiz, who has in the past been quite vocal about fighters who use performance-enhancing drugs. Cyborg is still officially suspended from competing after a California state athletic commission drug test resulted in a finding of the usage of the steroid stanozolol. Because of that, his signing of her appears appears contradictory to his previous stance. Ortiz believes otherwise.

"I'm making a statement," he said. "I'll grab someone who has problems, and I'm going to fix it. I'm going to show them the right way. We’ve sat down, and she explained to me it was a mistake and she’s not going to do it again. Everybody deserves a second chance. If she messes up again, my name is on it. I put my stamp of approval on her, and I believe in her. I promise to the fans it won't happen again."

When Cyborg's suspension is up in December, Ortiz might have his first management battle brewing. A superfight between Cyborg and current Strikeforce bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has been much-discussed, but both women want the fight on their own turf -- Cyborg wants it at 145 where she was formerly the champ, while Rousey has insisted she will only fight the Brazilian at 135, where she now reigns.

Ortiz insists that they will have to compromise and use a 140-pound catch weight.

"Ronda has the marketing machine behind her, so of course she'll try to get her way, but people want to see who the best woman is," he said. "Rousey has fought at 145 time and again while Cyborg has been at 145 always, so why should she come down a whole weight class? If you want to put the best against the best, compete with someone cutting an extra five pounds to fight against you."

The Rousey vs. Cyborg issue may turn out to be the first thorny issue that Ortiz faces with the Zuffa promotion in his new role as a manager. While his pro fighting tenure with the group was lengthy, it was also rocky. Ortiz characterizes his current relationship with Dana White as "cool," saying there are no problems between the two and that he has let most of his past grudges go. But he also believes that the troubled times were a learning experience from which to draw when faced with future negotiations scenarios.

"I think things will go a lot easier," he said. "I've learned a lot from mistakes. I won't bring those same things to the table next time. If my guys deserve something, I'm going to show on paper why they deserve it. And if they don't deserve things, then I understand that. But I'm going to make sure my guys understand it's not just about fighting. You have to do promotion. You have to go outside the box and do speech 101 and communications classes in college. Treat it like a business. I want to bring them fighters that are easy to work with."

If this sounds at odds with who Ortiz was during his fighting days, the irony is not lost on him. Someone, he insists, had to pave the way for multi-million dollar paydays, and that couldn't be done with a polite request. Sometimes, it required clashing of heads, fighting in the media and time apart.

"Jon Jones, the reason he's driving around in a Bentley is I'd say a lot because of me standing my ground," he said.

If Jones wins his next fight, he will tie Ortiz's long-standing record for most light heavyweight championship defenses. Ortiz openly admits he will be rooting for Jones' UFC 152 opponent Vitor Belfort, at least partially so that record remains his. But he also insists that he believes Belfort has a much better chance than the lopsided odds indicate.

"He’s a southpaw," he said. "Lyoto Machida gave Jon some problems in the beginning with some good shots. If Vitor is able to him hit with the same shots, he’s going to take him out."

For the record, Ortiz's analysis could be colored by two things. First, he is friends with Belfort. And second, he recently voiced disappointment in comments Jones made about him regarding contract issues and fighter's rights. In Ortiz's mind, the new wave of fighters like Jones only have the road map to success largely drawn out for them because of people like him charting the course. That's part of the reason he decided to start an amateur series. While he has no desire to compete with the UFC, he does want to guide careers from the very beginning, to teach young athletes about both the sport and the business of MMA.

After 15 years, Ortiz is both just finished, and just getting started.

"I want to be remembered as one of the greatest, and a guy who always gave back to the sport," he said. "Always."