LAS VEGAS -- The final chapter in the Tito Ortiz-Dana White feud was completed at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night. Yet as I close the book on one of the most interesting feuds in MMA history, I can't help but feel cheated.
Like a Stephen King book devoid of horror or a J.K. Rowling novel lacking fantasy, this tale always lacked its essential ingredient -- an actual confrontation -- and finished with no resolution and no payoff for fans that have followed the on-going battle between White, the UFC president, and Ortiz, one of the company's biggest stars, for the past five years.
Ortiz's unanimous decision loss to Lyoto Machida was the final fight of his UFC contract, and by all indications it will be his last fight for the company that launched him into superstardom 11 years ago. White has said that he "has no interest whatsoever in being in the Tito Ortiz business," and Ortiz has said that "the door is shut 100 percent" on signing another contract.
In many ways, despite its third-tier billing on a stellar UFC 84 card that featured Wanderlei Silva pummeling Keith Jardine in the first round and B.J. Penn discarding of Sean Sherk in the third round to prove that he's the undisputed UFC lightweight champion, it was the most important fight of Ortiz's career. It was the match that would prove, despite an unimpressive run of performances since 2006 that he was worth the respect that White has failed to give him. That he was worth the big-money contract he always coveted. And prove that he was worthy of such a deal, even if it wasn't with UFC.
His three-round dance with Machida, did nothing to prove White or Ortiz's other critics wrong. If anything, his unanimous 30-27 decision loss pushed him closer to the "washed up" moniker White has given him and guaranteed that he will not be given a deal he deems worthy, whether it be from the UFC or another promotion.
Ortiz, who wore a shirt emblazoned with "Dana Is My Bitch" during Friday's weigh-in, entered the ring to Public Enemy's Fight The Power before slipping into a shirt which said, "I Did It My Way!" on the back. Outside of a late comeback by Ortiz, it was the most excitement he would give to the sell out crowd which chanted his name for the majority of the fight. Ortiz looked lost, slow, frustrated and, really for the first time in his career, old, against Machida, who nearly ended the fight in the first round by dropping Ortiz on his back and unloading on his head before the bell rang, and again in the third when he dropped him with a knee to the liver.
"He actually knocked the wind out of me," said Ortiz, who shrugged his shoulders a blew a kiss to his teary eyed girlfriend, Jenna Jameson, after the fight. "Machida showed that he's a stud. He's very elusive and it was tough to chase him down. He's a great fighter."
It was the result White had been hoping for as he flashed a wide grin and raised his eyebrows at reporters as he walked around the Octagon after the fight.
White says he doesn't need Ortiz. Ortiz says he doesn't need White. And quite frankly, fans don't need to hear the two egomaniacs calling each other the same tired names over and over again.
The most intriguing and entertaining aspect of the feud may have been Ortiz's last appearance in front of a UFC banner. As soon as the pay-per-view ended, Ortiz walked into the press conference room, wearing a black hat, dark sunglasses and took a seat at the podium before being told by the UFC PR staff that he needed to leave since the press conference hadn't started yet.
"Dana said I can't be here," said Ortiz, as UFC Public Relations director Jennifer Wenk spoke to him and pushed the microphone away, instructing the media not to ask him questions.
"Stay up there Tito," said Jameson standing off to the side of the stage. "You deserve it."
As Ortiz spoke to Wenk, he smiled and shook his head as he turned toward the media and said, "I've never been kicked out of a press conference before. After 11 years of giving my blood, sweat and tears to make this company what it is I think I deserve to stay."
Ortiz would sit on the dais for nearly 30 minutes alone as extra security was brought in and Jameson continued to expound on the ridiculousness of the situation. "This is cementing what Tito has been saying for a long time," she said. "Its freedom of speech, freedom of the press, let him speak."
Finally White entered the room along with the other fighters, and looked at Ortiz surprised before addressing the media and the situation after I asked him why he didn't want Ortiz at the press conference. "No, Tito's welcome to come to the press conference," said White. "Just as long as he's not holding his own press conference, I think that's the issue."
During the course of the 45-minute press conference, there were several tense moments between White and Ortiz as reporters asked them questions about each other, prompting White to quench the controversy and incessant questions as best he could.
"I'm sure there are going to be a lot of Tito-Dana questions out there so let me get this out there: the stuff between Tito and me is real, this is no bull----, we're not trying to put on a show," said White. "It's very real and it's going to take Tito and me sitting down in a room and talking and we haven't done that in a long time. Tito and I need to sit down and talk like a couple of adults, which we're not. We need some serious [expletive] counseling. We need to talk to each other and I admit it's hard for both of us."
The only redeeming quality that this WWE-like storyline was the remote possibility that the two would actually step into a ring, an octagon or any other similarly shaped battle surface and settle there differences a la Vince McMahon and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Ortiz's last contract with UFC, which he signed in '06, actually had a clause that the two would square off in a boxing match, but the fight never came to fruition for reasons that the two, not surprisingly, disagree on.
"Dana White as a person is an awesome guy," says Ortiz, of the man that was his manager until White took over the UFC in '01. "Dana White the businessman is an [expletive]. He told me, 'The only reason the fans love you is because of me.' I remember when I was about to negotiate my contract, Dana White says, 'I made you and I'll break you.' Okay, thanks for the threat. That's awesome."
Ortiz believes White tried to break him two years ago when he backed off a promise to give him a 50-50 cut off their boxing match, as he promised, and proceeded to portray Ortiz as a scared fighter who failed to show up to a nationally televised weigh-in Ortiz never planned to attend.
"Tito Ortiz is full of [expletive]," says White. "Tito knows when we used to spar and I used to punch his head in. He wanted to beat me at my own game but he knew we were going to go three rounds and Tito wasn't going to look good coming out of this thing one way or the other."
While any fight between the 33-year-old Ortiz and the 38-year-old White would be the furthest thing aesthetically from the fights during Saturday's UFC 84, aptly called "Ill Will," it would have at least given this ongoing feud a proper ending in a sport known for resolving feuds in an Octagon, rather than endless conference calls littered with four-letter words.
"Tito Ortiz is a self-centered [expletive]," said White. "Tito really isn't that good. He's not. Tito's 33 now and there's a lot of good fighters out there. He's a lot of hype. He will never hold the light heavyweight championship again."
The options for Ortiz, who will now shift his focus to an upcoming book tour for his recently released autobiography, seem vast despite going winless in his last three matches and not winning a fight since defeating Ken Shamrock in '06, the last year he also headlined a card. The most likely destination would be EliteXC, which has deals with CBS and Showtime, and could offer Ortiz the kind of exposure that he wants and possibly a big name opponent in Kimbo Slice.
"There's so much stuff out there," said Ortiz. "I personally have prevailed through the worst circumstances in life. I came from nothing and became the world champion. I'm the person who tasted dirt and made gold out of it. I've always fought against those who try to keep me down and have always prevailed. I'm not worried. I'll be here for a long time."