“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”–Mark Twain

By– Kenny Rice

The literary giant Samuel Langhorne Clemens still had another strong thirteen years left when a reporter, premature as it was, went to cover a story of his rumored death in 1897. It’s close to certain that Jacob Christopher Ortiz does not have another thirteen years of fighting remaining. But one thing is etched in stone, former UFC champion Tito’s career isn’t over regardless of the myriad of reports to the contrary prior to UFC 132.

His first round guillotine choke out of the younger and highly favored Ryan Bader was the first win for Ortiz since defeating Ken Shamrock in 2006, completing the most anticipated trilogy ever by the most flamboyant and controversial personalities ever in the sport.

Ortiz’ victory should be celebrated by sports fans, and it has in mainstream circles stealing headlines from Dominick Cruz’ title preserving triumph over Uriah Faber in the main event. But some MMA fans and reporters are reluctant to applaud the 36 year old Ortiz for possibly the greatest career save in the sport’s history. The classic back against the wall, no place to go, now or never performance while UFC boss Dana White, the man who was giving Tito the thumbs down with another loss, looked on.

Too a degree it is understandable, after all when he becomes the self proclaimed “Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” the flaunting, taunting and often disrespectful persona that boldly parlayed himself to a losing title shot against Frank Shamrock only a dozen fights into his UFC career, some feelings have to be bruised if not crushed along the way. For all his prowess inside the Octagon, taking the belt in the then new light heavyweight division with a win over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 13 in 1997 and becoming a star attraction in the rising league, Tito’s bravado outside the cage has lingered as his own worst enemy.

But this isn’t about whether you like Tito or not and it isn’t about persuading you to change your opinion of him. From Mike Tyson to John McEnroe; from the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons NBA championships in ’89 and ’90 to the battling Oakland A’s World Series dominance in the ’70’s; it’s as American as apple pie to love to hate the cocky, outrageous winners who unabashedly defy the norm. Or simply embrace the rebels they are with appreciation for what they’ve accomplished, hello Joe Namath.

After dropping four of his last five fights, three straight with a draw against Rashad Evans in the mix, the anti-Tito camp was swelling with excitement to view his demise against Bader. Even though throughout this drought, Ortiz’ setbacks came against Chuck Liddell with a TKO, a split decision to Forrest Griffin sandwiched between decisions to Lyota Machida and Matt Hamil. It wasn’t as if Tito was seeking a sure thing with a cupcake match up, he remained carnivorously hungry to prove he belonged with the upper echelon of the division. This after various injuries and overcoming the almost certain career ender, back surgery. You want a comeback story for the generation, you want this one of the tenacious Tito.

Even as Ortiz has made a concerted effort to show he is more than the street tough from the raw days of the UFC, some won’t forget or forgive antics of his youth. Nevertheless, he sat across the boardroom table from Donald Trump on “Celebrity Apprentice,” expanded charity work, showed his dapper side in suits and ties all the while growing his Punishment Athletics MMA clothing line into a chain of gyms. CEO Tito can throw a solid corporate punch. But he can also be a lightning rod that polarizes the fan base with a quip, innuendo or flat out wicked retort to a comment. You can take the boy off the beach but not the beach out of the man.

Every time without fail he has appeared on Inside MMA, Ortiz has been at least an hour ahead of the scheduled time, always prepared with reams of notes whether a panelist or guest co-host. He is a pro. Sometimes if he struggles to fully express himself, don’t misconstrue his approach.¬† In actuality he is showing the growth of the man, no longer content to spew a profanity when a pause to find a more PG approved word will not only suffice but compliment for a stronger statement. Such was the case with his run in with Matt Mitrione, it was a mature Tito who came off as angry but sincere about comments he considered inappropriate about his girl friend and mother of his sons. It was Mitrione as he appeared on our show coming off more like, well a younger Tito.

Had Ortiz not been around in the early days with Liddell, Shamrock and Randy Couture, the UFC would’ve still grown, but without him and his voice it might have taken a bit longer.¬† The love to hate talent who drew attention and sold tickets and still does.

His most recent comeback, as always like it or not, should be appreciated, it is already in the UFC history book in the thick chapter on the compelling and often misunderstood  Huntington Beach Bad Boy.

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