Tito Ortiz previously has retired and returned to fighting. But his recent decision to compete again was fueled by more than the right opportunity.
The 44-year-old UFC Hall of Famer came out of retirement this past year for a chance to avenge two previous losses to Chuck Liddell. They met in the first and only Golden Boy MMA event, and Ortiz made short work of Liddell, finishing the fight by knockout in the first round.
In the aftermath of that fight, Ortiz announced, “I’m done.” But just eight months later, he had signed a deal with Combate Americas to return to the cage.
According to the former UFC light heavyweight champion, the decision to stage another comeback was more about his own health than feeling like had unfinished business in the fight game.
“I was not really into walking away [after the Chuck Liddell fight] just because I felt I still had so much more to go,” Ortiz told MMA Fighting. “I was 43 at the time ,and one of my friends, Randy Couture, I had to ask him what made him come back at 43 and win the heavyweight world title in the UFC. He said, ‘Tito, I wasn’t done, I had a lot more to do,’ and that’s all I needed to hear.
“I’m healthy. You’ve got to understand from 2003 to 2014, I’ve been riddled with injuries—back and neck and knees and I’ve had four neck surgeries, a back surgery, three knee surgeries—my body is finally reacting the right way when I was champ. I feel like that. I feel better now than when I was in my 30s because I’m able to put in hard work in the gym.”
Rather than return to Bellator where he had competed four times previously, Ortiz opted to sign with Combate Americas, where he was immediately matched up with former WWE star “Alberto El Patron” (previously known as “Alberto Del Rio”), who’d amassed a 9-5 record in MMA but had primarily kept his focus on professional wrestling.
Ortiz admits he was taken back with that particular matchup. But the Latin-based fight company made him an offer too good to refuse.
“I was stunned Alberto Del Rio wanted to fight me,” Ortiz said. “I was like are you serious? Is this a joke? But Combate Americas put their money where their mouth is, and I’m excited. It’s going to be worth my time.
“I want to make sure I put on a great show for the fans and not give Alberto a chance to take advantage at all. I’m going to show how devastating I truly am, as I did against Chuck Liddell.”
Ortiz the decided favorite against the seemingly overmatched El Patron might look like a cash grab on its surface. But Ortiz promises his reasons for returning go beyond a payday.
It’s obviously a unique opportunity to headline a card in what will be Combate Americas’ first-ever pay-per-view, which takes place Dec. 7 in Hidalgo, Texas. But really, this is just an appetizer to what he hopes will get him to the main course: restarting his career.
“I’m here – I’m back,” Ortiz declared. “I’m not going anywhere any time soon. The last fight against Chuck Liddell has reinvigorated my career completely. It made me want to compete. It made me want to get in the gym. It made me do what I love, and that’s compete. I love to compete. Just the reaction that I have from my body is amazing. I feel young. I’m 44 years old, but I feel 44 years young.
“This is just a stepping stone for something in the future. I would like to get a bigger fight, but this is a big fight for me.”
If all goes well on Dec. 7, Ortiz already has his next opponent in mind, and it’s a name from his past as he seeks to add another championship to his Hall of Fame resume.
“I would like to chase after a world title after this.” Ortiz said. “I know Ryan Bader is the heavyweight world champion and the light heavyweight world champion of Bellator.
“I would like to go after that light heavyweight belt and give him a chance at redemption when I beat him back in 2011.”
Ortiz defeated Bader by first-round guillotine choke when they met at UFC 132. He thinks Bader would be interested in the chance to erase that loss from his record while potentially giving Ortiz a shot at his light heavyweight title.
But before he gets to Bader in Bellator, Ortiz knows he has to demolish “El Patron” in December to prove he’s still at the top of his game.
“Right now it’s all Alberto Del Rio,” Ortiz said. “Smash him and make it look easy.”