As the dust settles on the 11th season from the tip of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's promotional spear, the most compelling question left is not about the upcoming finale.
When The Ultimate Fighter: Team Liddell vs. Team Ortiz/Franklin finalists Court "The Crusher" McGee and Kris "Savage" McCray square off at the Palms in Las Vegas on June 19, mixed martial arts fans will certainly find out who the next Ultimate Fighter is.
But that title is more of an afterthought these days since history has shown the winner isn't always the competitor with the most exciting future...
Or even present.
Nor is the hottest topic related to the men who finished the taped portion of the show wearing the respective coach's whistle.
That's because Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell is a pretty good bet to hammer replacement coach Rich "Ace" Franklin when the two meet this weekend in Vancouver at UFC 115.
Liddell seems genuinely motivated by the rumors of his demise and, even if he's not, Franklin is no Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Rashad "Sugar" Evans, or current light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Those would be three of the four 205 pound beasts who pushed Liddell's career to the brink (Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine being the fourth).
The latter two are likely to wage the next battle for Shogun's belt, and Rampage is only on the sideline by virtue of his recent loss to Sugar.
In other words, the Iceman's fade has come against three of the best the division has to offer right now.
By contrast, Ace's glory days are behind him and against smaller adversaries.
Like Chuck, Rich is experiencing a bit of a decline as well, except that he's not starting his from as lofty heights. True, he's a former champion like his UFC 115 opponent, but Franklin reigned over a diluted middleweight division and will be fighting 20 pounds north of 185 pound territory.
Obviously, none of the above is conclusive, and anything can happen, but suffice to say the coaches' clash doesn't have a ton of sizzle, either.
What does have some scorch to it is the matter of original coach Tito "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Ortiz and his future in the organization.
Coming into the show, those of us who remember Ortiz's glory days were keen to gather some insight as to whether or not he was done. Given his lackluster defeat at the hands of Forrest Griffin in their rematch and the fact that he hasn't won a fight since October of 2006 , the cloud of skepticism following Ortiz is justified.
Actually, upon closer inspection, the doubt is damn near mandatory.
Since 2001, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy has managed only six wins in 12 fights. Three of the triumphs came at the expense of the ancient and now ironically nicknamed Ken "The World's Most Dangerous Man" Shamrock. Two of the others were split decisions over Griffin in 2006 and Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort in 2005.
To put it bluntly, the most noteworthy accomplishment Ortiz has managed in almost a decade is either a 2004 unanimous decision over Patrick "The Predator" Cote or stonewalling Evans to a draw in 2007.
But that's inside the Octagon.
Outside the cage, the tune has been quite different, but equally off-pitch.
First, there was Tito's notorious—and possibly ongoing—friction with the UFC and its president/face Dana White. Then, there was his brief, anti-Brock Lesnar foray into the world of professional wrestling. Next, there was his jaunt on that abortion of good taste and common sense known as The Celebrity Apprentice .
Most infamously, there is his public relationship-not-marriage with porn star Jenna Jameson. To date, it's resulted in twin sons and one very nasty domestic dispute that made the police blotter (though no charges were filed).
Most recently, we have his premature exile from this season's Ultimate Fighter taping following an unsteady performance while on it.
If you missed the action, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy started off saying and doing all the right things. He looked like a sincerely engaged mentor who wanted nothing save the best for his charges and who was willing to bust his hump to achieve that goal.
Coach Ortiz rallied his troops, gave them positive encouragement, and generally comported himself like an emotional but decent human being. What's more, the facade held even as the losses mounted and Liddell's trash talk escalated...
Initially—it didn't last.
A little internal dissension here, a brutal loss there, and the facade started splintering. Splinters turned to cracks, and then the whole thing came crumbling down.
After one of his athletes had been disqualified for soccer-kicking a downed opponent in the head, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy could be heard screaming at the Iceman. It seems that he expected an apology once the replay showed the kick landing on the chest of Chuck's participant as Ortiz insisted it had, which would've made the strike legal.
Of course, the replay clearly showed foot connecting with face, but an apologetic Tito was nowhere to be found...Shocking.
Then, when one of Tito's picks failed to answer the bell for the third round, "Coach" Ortiz stormed off in a tantrum. Along the way, he added insult to injury by publicly criticizing his fighter for quitting.
Finally, the coup de grace came when he pulled out of his fight with Liddell due to a neck injury and, in the process, earned the boot from White.
So, with all that to digest, the question remains: Is the Huntington Beach Bad Boy a viable fighter?
Does he still have the determination and respect for MMA necessary to compete at the sport's highest level, as hinted by his early coaching efforts and the tears he shed when forced to leave?
Does he maintain the will and desire to win, not merely to survive?
Have the last few years been so lean for Ortiz because of an injury plague (as he insists) and, if so, will this latest surgery finally eliminate the health concerns?
Or was his spin on The Ultimate Fighter and alleged rematch with Chuck Liddell never really about a scrap? Was it simply more equipment for the Tito Ortiz publicity machine, as many seem to believe?
Like I said, the question remains.
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