"I thought slavery was over a long time ago."
Those were the words not of a bonded laborer in India or Nigeria or Haiti but of an American professional athlete, a mixed martial artist who made millions during a 15-year career with the UFC. Tito Ortiz's comment came after he was asked, during an appearance that aired on Wednesday's SI Now program, what it was like to fight for his former boss, Dana White.
Ortiz was on the show along with fellow UFC castoff Quinton "Rampage" Jackson to hype their shared debut with Bellator MMA. The veteran fighters, both of whom left White's employ last year after a long history of having issues with him, will meet Nov. 2 in the main event of their new company's first pay-per-view fight card.
The slavery remark seems bizarre coming from an athlete who, in 27 bouts for the sport's largest promotion, was slotted in 15 main events. Ortiz is No. 2 all-time in career earnings among UFC fighters, behind only Chuck Liddell, according to an accounting published by the website MMA-Manifesto.com. Tito's fight purses and reported bonuses add up to $4,075,000, and that includes only earnings since the start of 2004, when athletic commissions began releasing purse information. Ortiz fought 12 times before that, and those fight purses, along with any unreported UFC bonuses and fight-related sponsorship money, are not counted in his bankroll.
Jackson, who places No. 5 on the list at $3,490,000, didn't go the slavery route but was no less inflammatory in getting to the heart of the two fighters' gripe with Dana White. "He's the type of guy that will force you into a fight after surgery, and if you don't perform really well in the fight, or you lose, he'll talk crap about you in the media," said Jackson, who also once reigned as UFC light heavyweight champ. "Who wants to fight for a person like that, you know? Who wants to be forced into a fight as soon as you get done with surgery? Like, you're not even comfortable enough to know if you can even fight yet. Or they're going to extend your contract, so you'll be stuck with them longer. It's just bad, bad juju. It's bad for your psyche. You don't want to be around people like that."
Added Ortiz: "One of the biggest things now is bullying. And he's one of the biggest bullies, I'd say, in the business. He's a big bully."
A UFC spokesman declined comment.
The 38-year-old Ortiz and Jackson, 35, did talk a little about their upcoming fight, too. This meeting of MMA veterans who once were training partners is not about showing the UFC what it's missing, said Tito, "it's about showing the fans, the fans when they buy the pay-per-view. The millions that'll be buying the pay-per-view."
Millions? Talk about unbridled optimism. In its 20-year history, which includes more than 150 PPVs, the UFC has drawn a million buys only eight times. The high-water mark is UFC 100, which featured title defenses by the promotion's two biggest draws, Brock Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre. That July 2009 event sold to 1.6 million homes.
Bellator's PPV debut belongs not in the same neighborhood, not even the same universe.
The second-tier promotion's first dip into pay TV, coming two years after the company was bought by media giant Viacom, will feature two title fights, one a rematch between lightweight champ Michael Chandler and the man he dethroned in a 2011 thriller, Eddie Alvarez. Featherweight king Pat Curran also will put his belt on the line, against tournament winner Daniel Strauss. And high-profile signee Mo Lawal, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ, will get another shot at the man who shockingly knocked him out back in February, Emanuel Newton.
Then there's the main event. In one corner will stand Ortiz (16-11-1), who won just one of his last nine UFC fights, dating from 2006 until his final trip into the octagon in July 2012. Across the circular cage will be Jackson (32-11), who rode a three-fight losing streak out of the UFC. And lurking somewhere in the shadows, if the focus of pre-fight hype continues to be the story line, will be Dana White.
"The deal with Bellator made sense to me, and I know it made sense to him," said Ortiz, referring to Jackson. "And it'll make sense to a lot of other fighters that are in the UFC who will make the crossover. It's just a matter of time. You can only be bullied for so long. It's time to start pushing back."
Perhaps that will be the two promotions' great equalizer in the future. In the present day, though, the only movement from the UFC to Bellator has been by fighters well past their sell-by date. For fighters in their prime, the interchange has been in the reverse direction. Or at least that movement has been attempted. Alvarez tried to go to the UFC but ended up in court with Bellator, which contended it had matched his new deal. The case was settled, and he'll be on the November PPV. One Bellator champ who won't fight on that card is welterweight Ben Askren, who has expressed interest in fighting for the UFC now that his contract is up. And Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has stated he will not stand in Askren's way.
He's no slave driver.