It was just over a year ago that Tito Ortiz packed up his bags, hung up his gloves, and called it a career after a loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 148.
Ortiz's retirement was planned well before the fight ever took place, and the UFC even inducted him into their Hall of Fame just hours before his final fight with Griffin.
It came with some shock then that last week Ortiz returned to the cage after signing a multi-fight deal with Bellator Fighting Championships, the first of which will take place on November 2 when he meets fellow former UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
12 months ago, Ortiz was content in retirement after putting 15 years of his life towards MMA, and he was now driven by new goals—namely his management group where he quickly picked up former Strikeforce champion Cris "Cyborg" Santos as well as continuing to build his Punishment Athletics clothing brand.
Before he signed with Bellator, Ortiz teased his potential return on Twitter, which prompted a response from his former boss UFC president Dana White, who said a return to the cage for the once great champion could only mean one thing.
"Obviously, Tito needs money, that's the only reason he would come back," White said just a week ago.
On Monday, Ortiz joined his first media conference call for Bellator where he was asked that very question—was his motivation to come back to fighting purely out of financial need?
"How do you feed your children or your family? I was smart enough to save my money," Ortiz responded. I invest, and the biggest thing you can invest is something they don't make much of and it's called land and I own a lot of it. I'm smart with my money. Right now it's about making history, it's about making another brand, it's about a company that I put my hard work of 15 years into that just pretty much shut me out and turned me down.
"Now I'm with another one and I'm going to do exactly the same thing with a positive environment around me. I think fighters in general need another opportunity instead of just answering to one man. To be able to have an opportunity to look somewhere else. People want to be treated right as fighters, we should be respected as fighters. Fighters that want to be treated right they come to Bellator."
Throughout the entire one-hour plus call, Ortiz refused to ever mention White by name, but he referenced the UFC president several times when talking about the toxic environment he left behind when the Octagon door closed behind him for the final time.
Ortiz and White's relationship was always rocky, and it even got to the point during one contract negotiation where the two of them were going to spar in a boxing match, although it never happened. Ortiz says that White just dragged him down with all the negativity, and once he got rid of that he was able to get his body healthy and just focus on fighting and not all the other baggage that came with being in the UFC.
"I'm healthy, my mind is in a good place, I have a boss that I no longer have to fight with that has my back. I have a company that has my back. I don't want a relationship that drags me down," Ortiz stated. I have a great family that has my back. I'm in a good place mentally, physically, emotionally, like no other.
"I've been thinking (about returning) for a long time. I think it was after my last surgery when I bounced back only a month after surgery. Then I got knee surgery and I bounced back after three weeks. I was like 'why is my body healing so fast?' and then I realized what was around me, all the negative was gone. I had nothing but positive around me, it was a positive mindset, you can achieve a lot of things.
"Yes, I've got a big head and I've got a big brain and when it's used in a positive limelight and positive surroundings, I can be a scary man."
Ortiz's final fight in the UFC happened on July 7, 2012 and he says exactly one year later his "handcuffs" came off, undoubtedly referencing a matching period the UFC had to sign him to a new deal before he became an unrestricted free agent. He says it didn't take long for Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney to pick up the phone once he was free to see if Ortiz was interested in getting back in the cage.
"On July 7, I got a call from Bjorn (Rebney), the contract was done July 8, we came and we met," Ortiz said. "Dave Thomas (his manager) brought it in, we sat down, we hashed it out in a week, got it done."
With his new Bellator deal in hand, Ortiz is all about his new employers, talking them up because of their dedication to build fighters and not their own company brand. It was a similar situation when Jackson exited the UFC and signed with Bellator earlier this year.
"Bellator isn't about the brand—they're about making stars.," Ortiz said. Making people as they should be. We go in there and we kill ourselves practically, and you want to be a superstar, you've got to put in the time, you've got to put in the work, and you've got to put on good fights. Bellator wants to support guys who do that. It's not about the brand of Bellator, it's going to always be there. It's about fighters, about making superstars and Bjorn understands that."
While the contract, fight announcement and reasons for returning are all well and good, Ortiz still has to stay healthy and get ready for a fight on Nov 2. Despite his argument to the contrary, it can't be ignored that Ortiz is 1-7-1 in his last nine fights overall.
There's no doubt he faced some of the stiffest competition in the division, but Ortiz struggled in many of those fights to keep his head above water much less convince the world that he was still an elite light heavyweight.
Ortiz promises, however, that the fire is back in his belly especially after the way his last fight in the UFC ended. He also attributes part of the losses on the way he was mired in mudslinging with his former employer, and his attitude reflected his performances.
"My last fight left a bad taste in my mouth and I thought I won the fight. When you drop someone twice, and take them down four times, and you smash their face and they go running out of the cage, I don't understand how I lose a fight. You're only as good as your last fight," Ortiz stated. "We're still here to fight, we're going to put on a show.
"When I want to fight and I don't have someone behind me talking smack, it's great to have a boss that's going to have your back, who is going to support you in a great way. To have a company that has your back and supports you in a great way. When I have that feeling of graciousness of being here, it makes me want to do it. When I'm sitting there and I have someone barking at me, and yelling at me and talking s—t the whole time, I don't want to be around that."
Ortiz is no longer around White or the UFC any longer, so judging by his statements he expects to be back to championship form by Nov 2. The jury will remain out until after Ortiz faces Jackson at the first ever Bellator pay-per-view to render a verdict on whether that last statement is true or not.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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