Tito Ortiz confirmed on Sirius’s Fight Network Radio yesterday that he has accepted a May 24th fight with undefeated light-heavyweight contender Lyoto Machida, but because of disputes over money and a lack of respect from the UFC’s top brass (sound familiar?), it will be his last for the organization:
Expecting a rematch with “The Ultimate Fighter 2” winner Rashad Evans, Ortiz (15-5-1) said he begrudgingly accepted the bout with the Japanese-Brazilian fighter who toppled PRIDE sensation Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou with a second-round submission at UFC 79 “Nemesis” on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas.
“I was expecting a bigger fight. I think the fans were expecting a bigger fight,” said Ortiz. “I got pressed into it, and all of a sudden, it’s all over the Internet that Tito Ortiz won’t fight Machida. I’m just looking to get my final fight over with the UFC.”
On the topics of money and respect, Ortiz was out for blood:
“They said I wasn’t worth the money. I was worth no more than what I’m getting paid now, and I’m not a commodity to them anymore. I’m not as viable to them anymore. That was a sign of disrespect…With Dana in charge, I don’t think [another title shot] will ever happen for me. Dana has bad blood for me and nothing but bad blood. They’re going to try and ruin me…[The UFC] could care less about the fighters. Fighters are a dime a dozen. They’ll keep coming. Dana is really out for himself and the company. He doesn’t give a s–t about the fighters.”
So let’s take it from the top. Ortiz’s desire for a re-match with Rashad Evans comes from a place of personal honor; he wants to avenge his draw against who he perceives as an inferior fighter. But if he thinks that another bout with Evans would be a “bigger fight” in terms of PPV buys/general hype than a fight against top contender Lyoto Machida, he is deluding himself. Fan interest lies with Machida now, not Evans — Ortiz fans will show up to his last UFC appearance no matter who he fights. Of course, neither opponent would pull in dollars like Ortiz’s bank-breaking wars with Chuck Liddell and Ken Shamrock, but Ortiz vs. Machida is the fight that UFC fans genuinely want to see.
Clearly this is more about looking good in his last fight. Though Ortiz could probably dominate Evans in a rematch, Machida has made everyone from Rich Franklin to Stephan Bonnar to Rameau Sokoudjou look stupid, and Ortiz isn’t the guy to figure out how to beat him. Unfortunately, Ortiz’s relationship with the UFC isn’t good enough for Dana White to hand him an easy win for his farewell performance; instead, he’s being used as a gatekeeper for the light-heavyweight division’s upper-echelon. Maybe now he wishes he hadn’t been such a pain in Dana White’s ass.
As for money, the Fight Network reports that Ortiz has made over $1 million per fight in his latest outings. (We’re guessing a large chunk of that comes from a percentage he receives from PPV revenue.) Ortiz is convinced he’s worth a lot more, but he’s drifting further and further from #1 contender status, and other guys are overtaking him, both in terms of talent and marketability. Quinton Jackson and Forrest Griffin have basically made Tito Ortiz obsolete. In other words, he’s not worth a lot more that a million per fight, and the UFC knows it. To some extent, Tito must know it too. Hence the hostility.
But Ortiz has to be careful with his words until that last fight is in the can. I doubt the UFC will try to road-block his involvement with other fight promotions to the extent that they’ll do to Randy Couture — as a beloved champion, Couture is more of a painful loss to the UFC than a loudmouthed aspiring actor on the downswing. But as we learned last week, if you make enough harmful statements in the press, you’ll have a lawsuit waiting for you.