Tito Ortiz was near tears, putting his head on the desk, unbelieving. After taking a year off for what could have been career ending back surgery, Ortiz had just finished what he thought was a triumphant return to the UFC Octagon. He grounded Forrest Griffin for much of the first two rounds; scoring several takedowns and busting Forrest open with some brutal elbows on the ground.
“I thought I won the first round and I thought I won the second round. You see the damage on his face? I got him good,” Ortiz said after the fight. You could make a case for either man in those rounds, but the third round was a different story.
Ortiz was spent, failing to do anything but defend for three minutes before throwing a few half-hearted punches. After telling Heavy.com and the world that he was in great shape, Ortiz revealed after the fight that he had struggled through camp with an injured neck that kept him from sparring. Instead of a fully recovered Ortiz, fans got only a shadow of what was once a great fighter. Even that was almost enough to beat Griffin. Ortiz was expecting a fight with an aging Mark Coleman. When Coleman had to drop out, Tito stepped into a very dangerous fight with one of the best in the world.
“For me coming back, this was supposed to be a warm-up fight. Me and Dana talked about it being a warm-up fight, but Forrest is no warm-up fight, being ranked fifth in the world. I might have bitten off a little too much, but I still thought I won the fight,” Ortiz said. “I’m far from being over… I think I might have overstepped my boundaries by coming back too quick. After back surgery, back after only one year. I want to see another athlete do what I do after one year of having two-level fusion.”
As Tito tried to maintain composure in front of an assembled media, Jenna Jameson, looking almost unrecognizable from the stunning woman who starred in dozens of adult films (or so I am told). She stood right next to me before tiring and taking a seat on press row; her stamina was almost as poor as Tito’s. With a very large bodyguard kneeling by her side, she lent Tito emotional support he surely needed. Only Griffin’s appearance, delayed because of stitches, lightened the tension.
Forrest Griffin may be dark and gloomy in real life, but his public persona is as the joke cracking regular guy. He lived up to that reputation at the press conference. As a reporter began asking a question to Ortiz, a booming voice sounded right next to me. It was an ecstatic Griffin, who not only asked a question, but also proceeded to walk on stage and answer it. Tito and Forrest had a light hearted back and forth, with Griffin admitting he lost the first fight between the two men and suggesting a rubber match was in order.
Ortiz and Griffin both pressured White to make them the coaches of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter. “Why not?” Ortiz asked. “Forrest knows how to sell a fight.” White was non-committal, but did not dismiss the idea out of hand. While rumors have been circulating that Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie would be the next coaches, Ortiz and Griffin could have a super fight on their hands with two previous classics combined with a season of reality television hard sell. Griffin encouraged White to make the two coaches, and congratulated Tito on finally becoming a company man.
“Me and Tito kind of have the same strategy, though I got on board a little before Tito, which is to do what Dana says,” Griffin joked. “That’s what is best for us. That’s been my strategy pretty much for the last five years of my life, and it’s working pretty good. I’m going to continue to do that.”
Ortiz was the villain yet again, with a lukewarm crowd growing more and more pro-Forrest as the fight went on. Tito seemed hurt by the crowd’s boos, but that wasn’t the case with Josh Koscheck. Koscheck seemed to feed off the crowd’s anger, destroying the bigger Johnson standing and outwrestling him to boot. On one memorable (yet somehow failed) takedown attempt, Koscheck drove Johnson into the cage so fast and hard that they might have ended up in California without the Octagon to stop him.
“I was blown away by his performance,” White said. “We’ve butted heads a lot in the past, but that was a great performance.”
Earlier in the day, welterweight contender Dan Hardy was talking up a fight with Koscheck, suggesting the wrestler needed a haircut and that he intended to color his hair red-with blood. Koscheck called Hardy out in the cage, but White held firm that Hardy would get the next shot at champion Georges St. Pierre. Koscheck would have to wait.
News and Notes:
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira’s parents made their first trip to the United States to see his fight with Luiz Cane. An ecstatic family showered little Nog with hugs and the happy group, that included middleweight champion Anderson Silva, seemed to be enjoying their stay.
Dana White jumped the gun a little, announcing a new WEC television deal with VERSUS. The deal isn’t signed, but is imminent. WEC officials said they don’t intend to address rumors of a WEC/UFC merger further. Everyone in the company from WEC President Reed Harris to White has addressed the persistent rumor, and their plan is to just ignore any further erroneous reports. Everyone is excited about the WEC’s future, noting that the best boxers in the world like Manny Pacquiao would be fighting in the WEC if they were MMA stars. The feeling is that Zuffa has built one company from the bottom up and can do it again with the WEC.
There was plenty of buzz about former WWE Vice President Shane McMahon. McMahon, were he to come into the company, would help the UFC secure international marketing and television deals, similar to the work he did for his father’s company. The holdup is Shane’s desire to buy in to the company. Zuffa has been loathe to add a partner in the past, but with the struggling real estate market, the time may be right for the Fertittas to add a new partner.