LAS VEGAS -- Tito Ortiz, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," the brash trash talker, the relentless self-promoter, promised himself he wouldn't cry. But there he was on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, with tears streaking down his face at his UFC Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"I told myself I wouldn't do this," Ortiz said, as he stopped to regain his composure. "I said I would't cry."
You can't blame the former UFC light heavyweight champion for getting emotional at the end of a 15-year, roller-coaster journey.
The Californian was one of the pivotal players in helping the Zuffa-era UFC transform from a near-dead company to a cultural juggernaut. There were plenty of well-publicized ups and downs over the years, and there were many points at which you would have figured there was no way Ortiz and the company would finish on good terms.
"I put my heart, soul and body into this sport," Ortiz said. "I've had ACL surgery, back surgery, neck surgery, a meniscus tear. When people ask me, "Why you retiring? I'm retiring because it's time."
From his debut at UFC 13 in 1997, in which he defeated Wes Albritton in 22 seconds, to his UFC light heavyweight title reign, which lasted from 2000-03 and still boasts the division record of five successful title defenses, through famous feuds with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Ken Shamrock, and Forrest Griffin, Ortiz was one of the workhorses who helped put the UFC over the top.
"I've done everything I wanted to do," said Ortiz. "My number one goal was to be the best fighter ever in the Octagon. I think I can hold hands with many who can stake that claim."
Ortiz thanked a long list of people, from wrestling coaches and teammates at Huntington Beach High to Tank Abbott, the early UFC star who helped Ortiz get into the company. But he had special praise for some of his biggest adversaries over the years.
"Chuck Liddell, Randy [Couture], Ken Shamrock, thanks. We helped build this sport into what it is today."
Ortiz's story, of course, isn't complete without a nod to his legendary battles of will with UFC boss Dana White. While the two drove each other to the brink of insanity on more than one occasion, White was there on Saturday to introduce the former champion.
"Oh the times we've had, White said. "When we look back on when we started this company back in 2001, I managed Chuck and Tito before we even ran the UFC. It was some of the best times and some of the worst times I ever had, but the story between me, Tito, Chuck, and all the early days of the UFC are the things that helped build the UFC. Whether it was Tito vs. Chuck, Tito vs. Randy, all those big fights had one thing in common: Tito was involved."