Tito Ortiz remains one of the few fighters of his generation who’s still competing in MMA, and that’s not stopping, at least anytime soon.
The 44-year-old former UFC world champion recently signed with Combate Americas and is being targeted to make his promotional debut later this year in October against WWE star Alberto Del Rio. The signing with Combate Americas surprised many, as Ortiz had announced retirement last November following his first-round knockout win over long-time nemesis Chuck Liddell.
Many factors contributed to Ortiz’s comeback and continuation of his historic MMA career. Family, health, time left in his athletic form and a call to former rival Randy Couture all played a factor in in his return.
“I’m feeling great and I’m able to do it physically and mentally and I think that has huge value to it, but I love the sport, I love training, I love seeing how my body forms from the beginning to the end of camp,” Ortiz said in a recent interview with MMA Fighting.
“After my last fight with Chuck Liddell, I went from being in okay shape to being in a type of shape that I was in when I was 23 years old. People see the weigh-ins and every time my body structure is almost the same and it’s just because of how hard I push myself. But you have to be in the right mind space, you have to be in a positive environment because it helps us fighters compete. But really, I’m just happy, I’m content, I like to get in the gym and train, I like to push myself.
“After the Chuck fight, I came to this fork on the road of which way I go right now. Do I go in the business stuff and make decent money or do I go the other way and do something that I love, and still do the business stuff, but do the thing that I love and get in shape and compete. I had to call Randy Couture and ask him the same question, ‘When you were 43 years old, what made you want to comeback?,’ and he said, ‘Well, Tito. I really felt like I wasn’t done, I felt like I could give so much more,’ and that’s all he had to tell me and I was in.
“My mentality, my mindset, my body, my life, the people surrounding me, the positive reenforcement I get, all that motivates me and inspires me because I don’t want to look back when I’m 50 years old and wish I would’ve continued fighting when I was 44, so I can end it on my own note, the way I want it.
“This is the first of my two fights with Combate Americas and I may walk away after that, but right now I’m motivated, I want to compete. When Combate came to me and offered me Alberto Del Rio I thought they were kidding, I thought it was a joke, but they put their money where their mouth was and now it’s all bout the fight. The money is done and dealt with, now it’s just about training and doing what I love to do.”
The call to Couture is an interesting component to Ortiz’s return. Couture, a former UFC champion and Hall of Famer like Ortiz, hung up the gloves in 2006 after suffering a second stoppage loss to Chuck Liddell. At the time he was just a few months from turning 43.
Couture’s retirement lasted less than a year as he returned in 2007. He went on to fight eight more times in the UFC, capturing and defending the heavyweight title within that stretch. It was clear Couture had a lot left in the tank.
“This call was right after my birthday, right when I turned 44,” Ortiz said. “I texted him and asked him if he had a couple of minutes to chat and he said, ‘Yeah, what’s up,’ because me and Randy get a long really well. Randy is a really cool guy, I’ve always looked up to him from the very beginning when I started my career at UFC 13.
“I remember walking into the training room and he was running on the treadmill and I thought, ‘Oh no, that’s Randy Couture, I hope he’s not in my same weight,’ and he was in the heavyweight tournament at the time and I was in the middleweight one. So I’ve always watched him and fighting him for my world title and having him beat me. I thought I gave him too much respect and he became light heavyweight champion, so I’ve always respected him and we are good friends.”
Although Ortiz values Couture’s thoughts and experience on the matter, Couture’s advice wasn’t what ultimately did it for him.
“I think it was a huge, but not the deciding factor,” Ortiz said. “I think 80 percent of my decision was my mind-set, but I just wanted to know because there wasn’t any MMA fighter who had competed at that age at the time, so I just took it heart from somebody that’s been in the business for such a long time. I wanted to get advice from someone I look up to.”
Ortiz comeback announcement was welcomed by mixed emotions within the MMA community. Although Ortiz is 4-1 in his last five bouts and has looked competitive in every one of those fights, some fans questions what’s left for him to prove at this stage of his career. Ortiz says it’s no longer about the titles or money, but doing what he loves.
“To me it’s not about the money, it’s not about the titles, I have all of that,” Ortiz explained. “I have six world titles in my cases, I’ve done everything I need to do. Now it’s just about having fun with it and entertaining and this fight is going to be that. I’m doing this fight for the fans. I love to entertain, I love to make people excited to watch me compete.”
Whether or not you’re on board with Ortiz’s latest career chapter, there’s no denying his incredible longevity in the sport. Even “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” is surprised by how long he’s been able to stay in the the fight game.
“I thought I’d be done by 35 years old, I really thought I’d be done.” Ortiz said. “But I didn’t realize how much I was in-love with the sport. I love to be in shape and there are times where I get fat and I don’t have my eight-pack anymore. I guess it might be a little vain if I'm being honest, but I look at myself and say, ‘You can do better than this, get off the couch, let’s go jog, let’s get some weight training going, let’s do some wrestling,’ and I’ve had those injuries that have held me back from doing that, but now I’m just going to roll with the punches and hold on to this roller coaster that I’ve been on and enjoy it. It’s time to enjoy.”