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On 'bulls---,' and why Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar matters anyway

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MMA Fighting

SAN DIEGO - As has often been his way over the years, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz managed to sum up the buildup to his Bellator 131 main event with Stephan Bonnar in a manner he didn't exactly mean as the words came tumbling out.

"It's all bulls--, man," Ortiz said at Thursday's press conference.

Ortiz hasn't been the only person to come to such a conclusion, as many observers -- from fans to fellow fighters to media -- have been less than thrilled with the antics leading up to the fight, the vast majority of which can be pinned on Bonnar.

The fighter known as "The American Psycho" has been a one-man sideshow since this fight was announced back in September. First, of course, was the skit which will go down in MMA infamy, when he showed up with a double-masked man, Justin McCully, a former Ortiz training partner, a fact which only the hardest-core fans knew. He proceeded to surround himself with Ortiz's old coach, Paul Herrera, and manager Dave Thomas.

Since then, it's been one insult after another, a theme which hasn't slowed down in the days leading to the fight.

"Sounds like he was just talking out of his ass, which is actually located on his shoulders," Bonnar said in reply to Ortiz's "bulls--" comment. "It seems like every time he opens his mouth, crap comes out."

Ortiz, by contrast, dropped the bulls-- heading into Saturday night's fight at the Valley View Casino Center. If Ortiz is in on some grand conspiracy to push a scripted grudge with Bonnar, he's done a solid job of hiding it, as he's never cracked a smile, offered a wink, and rarely deviated from the lines aside from saying he's using Bonnar's words as fuel for his fire.

"This guy talks about my family, talks about my character, talks about my fans," Ortiz said. "This guy is a scumbag."

After all the bluster, fight night is finally on the horizon. No one seems to be under any illusion that this will be remembered in the vein of Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson, destined to sit among the great moments in MMA history. Nor has anyone deluded themselves into believing this fight has any sustaining significance going forward.

But does it need any? This show is meant as the rollout to new Bellator CEO Scott Coker's back-to-the-future vision for MMA. The big stage and ramp from Strikeforce events past are back. So is the Strikeforce feel of the main card, a mix of fun pairings for their own sake (Melvin Manhoef vs. Joe Schilling) and quality fights for the hardcore fans to chew on (Will Brooks vs. Michael Chandler).

Ortiz and Bonnar are the window dressing, the lure to bring in viewers. Viacom execs don't care if people are tuning in because the fight has a gawking-at-a-train-wreck aura about it. They simply want people to tune in, period. And they're gambling Ortiz and Bonnar have enough interest left to get people to sample the product on basic cable (which, of course, isn't "free," but nor are they being asked to spend an extra $60 on the product).

As for what might go down once they've got the viewer tuned in to Spike TV? On paper, everything seems to favor Ortiz, who has not only achieved far more in the sport than Bonnar, but has remained competitive with some of the sport's best during his UFC-stint-ending string of losses.

The X-factor, of course, is how these guys' bodies are holding up heading into the fight. While Ortiz has been mocked for his habit of listing his litany of injuries after a loss, there's no denying he had several legit surgeries. Bonnar, too, has complained about the aches and injuries that played at least some of the role in his retirement in the first place.

All things being equal, though, the disparity in their career accomplishments never quite went away.

"This guy is known for getting his ass whipped in the cage," Ortiz said. "On Saturday night we're going to do it all over again. He says how bad and how tough I am and how he's going to stuff my takedowns and stand up and its going to get bloody all over. Okay, cool. Who gives a s---? On Saturday night I'm ready to fight, and I hope he is."

"You better destroy me buddy, because you've put a lot of pressure on yourself," Bonnar replied. "I'm a bum, I'm nothing, you're a supreme being, I'm not in your league, you better destroy me, because when you see your punches have no effect on me, you'll know what time it is."

Maybe Ortiz and Bonnar will surprise people and put on an exciting fight. Maybe not. But if they simply deliver the audience, the viewers stick around to sample the rest of the fights, and the fighters up and down the card can deliver the goods, then all the "bulls--" will have been worth it.