He had two strikes against him. Two outs, bottom of the ninth. Down five runs, bases empty. Broken bat on his -- no, even better, Wiffle Ball bat on his shoulder. Closer of the Year on the mound. Fans filing toward the exits. Fat lady's singing, voice all warmed up.
It was all over for Tito Ortiz. He hadn't won a fight since 2006, which made it somewhat remarkable that he was still fighting in the UFC. But this was it for him, the end of the road. Company president Dana White had said it himself, to Tito and anyone else who cared to know: Another loss for Ortiz, and ballgame's over.
And another loss was all but guaranteed, wasn't it? The UFC had put Ortiz in with Ryan Bader, who'd beat down everyone put in front of him until, in his last fight, he'd run into the indomitable Jon Jones. So you might say Bader had beaten everyone he'd faced who wasn't superhuman. Laying waste to Tito Ortiz would be his first step on the way to securing a rematch with "Bones," who'd gone on to claim the light heavyweight title.
Of course, you know the end of the story. Or should I say
No one other than Ortiz himself.
During a recent media conference call to hype UFC 133, Saturday night's fight card in Philadelphia (9 p.m. ET, PPV) that features Ortiz against Rashad Evans in the main event, I asked Tito what it felt like to no longer be weighed down by the pressure of having one foot out the door and fighting a do-or-die bout.
"I have to correct you," he said as I still was wrapping up the question. "There was no pressure on me."
"But you had to win or ..."
"There was no pressure on me. It was all on Bader, who was supposed to win."
And then Ortiz launched into a monologue right out of the positive thinking textbook, explaining that losing that fight had never crossed his mind, that he was prepared for a positive outcome, that winning was the only possibility, blah blah blah. It sounded like someone trying to sell a fight, but the fight was over and no longer needed selling, so rather than a marketing pitch it sounded like self-belief. Some might call it delusional self-belief. But is it delusional if you actually make it happen?
We'll learn a little more about the power of self-belief this weekend. Ortiz is a heavy underdog to Evans, with whom he fought to a draw in 2007. But Rashad (15-1-1) has won five of six bouts since then, beating Forrest Griffin for the UFC light heavyweight belt and also knocking out Chuck Liddell. Ortiz (16-8-1), meanwhile, lost three straight before shocking Bader, his first win since 2006.
But dwelling on the negative is not part of the 36-year-old Tito's plan. "Look at Liddell. Look at [Randy] Couture," he said during the conference call. "They were champs at 36. Why not me?"
As young as you feel: Forgive Mike Pyle if he's having a déjà vu experience. Last October he was matched up with John Hathaway, a 23-year-old Brit who at 14-0 was fast on the rise ... until Pyle shot him down. Now Pyle has another phenom in front of him, and it's up to 22-year-old Rory MacDonald (11-1) to alter Pyle's experience from déjà vu to dazed and confused.