At UFC 140, beloved former longtime UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz suffered his second straight setback, losing to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by first-round TKO.
Two losses in a row isn’t the worst thing to happen to a UFC fighter, but Ortiz has only had his hand raised once in his last eight fights.
Ortiz came out aggressively against Nogueira and he paid the price after some vicious body shots and the subsequent ground-and-pound assault.
"He caught me clean in the same place Rashad (Evans) did," said Ortiz. "That body shot hurt me. My game plan was to get on top."
"The People’s Champ" has a newfound appreciation for his loyal fanbase and his contributions to building the UFC brand were significant.
"I gave it my all," he said. "Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I’m going to take some time off and enjoy the holidays with my family. I have one more fight in my contract. I’m going to give the fans one more fight that is my best."
However, UFC president Dana White was noncommittal on Ortiz returning to the UFC.
In assessing Ortiz’s lackluster run since his back-to-back wins over Ken Shamrock in 2006, it’s easy to point to his record. However, his winless run plagued by contractual disputes, injuries and periods of inactivity paints an unfair portrait of his career.
Ortiz has competed at the highest level, dropping fights to some of the division’s all-time greats such as Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, Evans and Nogueira.
Furthermore, Ortiz has turned in his fair share of spirited efforts in the last five years. He stunned Ryan Bader by submitting him in the first round of their UFC 132 bout this past July. He should have arguably been given the nod in his rematch with Forrest Griffin in November 2009. He nearly sunk in a triangle choke in the third round of his fight with then-unbeaten force Machida in May 2008. And he would have won his initial meeting with Evans if he wasn’t penalized for holding onto the cage in the second round.
Ortiz is a polarizing figure that you either love or hate. But there’s no denying the accolades or aptitudes of the Team Punishment founder. A dominant submission grappler during his heyday, Ortiz experienced success on both the collegiate-wrestling and submission-grappling circuits. He became a state champion in wrestling and a bronze medalist at the 2000 Abu Dhabi Combat Club, which is the equivalent of the UFC for grappling.
Ortiz was the face of the UFC for many years as he was demolishing everyone in his path, including familiar names like Guy Mezger, Wanderlei Silva, Evan Tanner, Vladimir Matyushenko, Ken Shamrock and Vitor Belfort.
Financially, Ortiz was a proven pay-per-view draw. At UFC 61, Ortiz’s rematch with Shamrock drew a staggering 775,000 buys for a $3.4 million gate at a time when mixed martial arts was still struggling to gain mainstream acceptance.
In 2011, Ortiz is not necessarily in a position to headline pay-per-views. With that being said, his name value and recognition make him a lucrative addition to any major card. He claims to be in the best shape of his career and he’s motivated to leave on top.
Ortiz has also matured over the years. His name still pops up on celebrity websites given the nature of his tumultuous relationship with former adult film star Jenna Jameson, but his attitude toward the sport, his employers and his die-hard fans has changed in a positive way.
At the very least, Ortiz deserves to finish his career where it started in May 1997, under the UFC promotional banner. He’s no longer "in the mix," as the UFC president often likes to say, but he should be rewarded for his years of blood and sweat for the organization.
There are still countless intriguing opponents for the 36-year-old California native. For example, both Stephan Bonnar and Rich Franklin would make for quintessential candidates to fight Ortiz in the last bout of his contract.
Ortiz is unlikely to be favored against most fighters in the upper echelon of the division, but counting him out against anyone is a grave error. Ortiz remains a physically massive 205-pounder with excellent wrestling and unheralded submission prowess. Years of experience at the main event level are also beneficial assets in his quest to leave the UFC on top.
Ortiz will dictate his own fate by winning or losing. At the very least, however, Ortiz deserves a chance to enter the Octagon for a record-breaking 28th time.
Ortiz is no longer marketed as the face of the UFC, but he’s still adored by millions. One last fight on the sport’s biggest stage is only fitting for a future UFC hall of famer who has done so much to advance the growth of mixed martial arts.