Retired Ortiz teaching self-promotion to MMA's current fighters
IRVINE, Calif. -- Tito Ortiz remembers the mornings when he couldn't wait to jump out of bed and train. Still young and full of vigor, the former UFC light heavyweight champion would work out with Frank Shamrock, a fighter who had already been through the mixed martial arts wringer.
"I remember I was training with Frank Shamrock after I lost to him," Ortiz said. "I went up [to Northern California] and I trained with him, and at the time he was 31, 32. I remember waking up in the morning. I was like 'Alright, let's go train,' and I'd get out of bed and he was all sore and [he'd say] 'Wait until you get to my age and you'll understand." Nowadays I [tell him] 'I understand what you're talking about now.'"
Ortiz retired on July 8, 2012 when he was inducted into the UFC's company Hall of Fame early in the morning and then lost a tightly contested decision to Forrest Griffin at UFC 148 at night. But while Ortiz is six months removed from fighting and training, he still bears the war wounds from 15 years of life as a professional fighter.
Speaking backstage at Bellator MMA's recent event at Cal-Irvine, Ortiz sported a large bandage on his neck which covered the scars from a December neck fusion surgery.
"My neck's doing really good," Ortiz said. "It's been four weeks now since neck surgery. I have one more surgery left, I have to get... an ACL replacement in my right knee. Hopefully that will be my last surgery because I'm retired now. My neck's 100 percent better, the pain in my neck is finally gone."
Fortunately for Ortiz, who turns 38 this week, this isn't the typical tale of a fighter who is broken down and penniless in his retirement. Long before Chael Sonnen realized that running one's mouth is a good way for a fighter to get himself paid, Ortiz was "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," a fighter who set MMA records in both television ratings and pay-per-view buys as much because fans wanted to see opponents punch him out as any other reason.
It's not a stretch to say that without Ortiz's promotional ability in selling rivalries with the likes of Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, and Randy Couture early in the modern-era UFC, parent company Zuffa might not have reached its current juggernaut status. So while Ortiz, in retirement, has many of the aches and pains his contemporaries experience, Ortiz has avoided the financial fate many have experienced.
"I was able to walk away after 15 years and be financially stable for my children because that's number one for me," said Ortiz, the father of three sons.
Ortiz has taken what he learned during his career and branched out into fighter management, launching his company, Primetime 360 Entertainment and Sports Management. The former champion hopes to teach his fighters the same lessons in self-promotion that made his bank account every bit as successful as his three-year title reign.
"I want to give an opportunity to the fighters that never had the chance, not only to help their career out as fighters, but also [to teach them] branding, the sponsor side of it," Ortiz said. "Making a household name of themselves as I did with myself and making sure you're financial stable is every bit as important as how you perform in your fights."
Of course, you can't expect Ortiz to simply quietly fade into the background. He's already managed to drum up quite a bit of publicity for one of his fighters.
At the moment, Ortiz's most notable client is former Strikeforce women's featherweight champion Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. Santos was suspended for a year by the state of California after a Dec. 17, 2011 fight with Hiroko Yamanaka, as Santos tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol.
Santos' suspension ended on Dec. 16, though she has yet to receive formal reinstatement. But when her career resumes, the potential biggest fight in women's MMA history, a superfight with current UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, looms.
Rousey, as the current champion and pay-per-view headliner, has the upper hand in dictating the terms of the fight at the moment, and has insisted that Santos come down to 135 pounds to meet her. But Ortiz will only let her client take the fight at such a weight if he feels it's safe for her to do so.
"She wants the fight with Ronda, but the biggest challenge and the biggest obstacle for us is getting down to 135," Ortiz said. "Ronda's fought at 145 for her whole career besides her last fights, and 'Cyborg's' fought her whole career at 145. She doesn't know what it feels like to get down to 135."
Ortiz will bring in noted MMA dietician Mike Dolce to help Santos conduct a test run on a cut down to bantamweight.
"I want to make sure as a manager to make the right decision for my fighters' future, health wise," Ortiz said. "I don't want her dying because of cutting too much weight, we've seen that happen before in college wrestling. I want to make sure that doesn't happen [to] someone under my wing, under my name... If UFC can make it happen, Mike Dolce can make it happen, Cris Cyborg is going to fight Ronda Rousey."
By keeping Santos' name in the spotlight while she waits her return to competition, Ortiz has already proven that even though he's done with his active fighting career, we've seen far from the last of "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy."
"Hopefully instead of using my brawn I'll be using my brains," Ortiz said.
"I've got into management, I've got a supplement line at Punishment Nutrition, plus my clothing line PA, my gym [Punishment Training Center]. I've planted so many seeds of doing the right things and hopefully my brains and my [business] degree will actually come into effect now that I'm no longer fighting, now that I'm retired."