“The People’s Champion” Tito Ortiz is a living legend of MMA. The UFC hall of famer played a a big role in the promotion’s booming period of the mid 2000’s, fighting historic rivalries with Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell. Now, Ortiz has opened up a new chapter in his MMA career under Scott Coker in Bellator MMA. Some fights are strictly business, but Stephan Bonnar has struck a very personal chord with Ortiz. We talk Bellator, Bonnar, and the rough side of the hurt business with the MMA icon.
Scifighting: Where are you training for Bellator 131?
Ortiz: I’m out of Punishment Training Center in Huntington Beach and at Reign with Mark Munoz.
SF: What is the real story behind the grudge between you and Stepahn Bonnar?
Ortiz: I don’t know, you tell me. Someone talks about your family and says horrible things like “you’re fighting because your chick took all your money.” It’s personal and I’m not going to let anyone get away with that. He just just talks stupid s*** that really p***** me off. He was on Inside MMA talking about how troops disliked me and how I just went to Iraq for for PR. How many times did you go to Iraq dude? I’m gonna go to Iraq for PR and sacrifice myself when I have kids? Are you crazy? This guy is going to get 15 minutes of pain when we get inside that cage.
It’s a personal fight, this isn’t really a sportsman’s fight. This is going in and trying to demolish a bully. That’s all that Bonnar is, just a bully. This goes way past what me and Ken Shamrock had. He never got personal about my family or my fans. Even talking about it makes me mad. He’s really lit a fire under my ass and I’ve got to embarrass this guy. The referee’s going to have to rip me off of him after every single round. I’m not gonna stop when they tell me to stop.
Ortiz: Yes, I still go there during training camp. It’s amazing for recovery and cardio. Pushing my heart rate up to 180 and getting it down to 100 in 30 seconds works really well for recovery. I’ve been a big believer in that for 15 years. People really should look up Ascent in OC.
SF: You posted a video of your most recent neck surgery on your website. What did they have to do for that surgery? How nervous were you?
Ortiz: They had to go in and do a stem cell injection. It wasn’t a fusion or a replacement which is a lot worse, but I was nervous. The doctor said I would be okay and I believed him. He did my lower back surgery, my disc replacement, and my fusion of C-67 which was a hairline fracture. He did an amazing job. He told me I’d be 100% in 3 months and he was right. I’m healthy and I’m ready to fight. It showed against Shlemenko how strong and fast I was. I stopped him in 2 minutes and 27 seconds. I just keep going, keep working and going to the grindstone.
SF: What was the cause for the paralysis claims?
Ortiz: That happened at the time of my first fracture. I was training on a fractured neck and the only reason I pulled out of that fight was because of my doctor. He said that if I got slammed on my head that a fracture could pierce my spinal chord. He said “Do you wanna take that chance?” I said, no but I was in shape and really wanted the fight. Yeah there’s a chance I could have been slammed on my head and suffered a fracture at that time, but once they did the injection I was fine. They did a scan on it and it was 100% healed. I started training, Shlemenko called me out and I was able to get that fight. I’m healthy and my neck’s perfect.
SF: Withdrawing from a fight is a hard call to make, but you have to make the right decision for your personal health.
Ortiz: I have kids, I have to take care of my children. All these people that talk on the internet, they don’t mean s***. It’s about supporting my family, that’s my #1. If my doctor says wait and you’ll be able to fight another day, I’ll take that hands down each and every time. I can’t count the times that I’ve gone in and I’ve fought when I probably shouldn’t have. I count more times fighting injured than healthy, it’s quadruple for sure. This goes all the way back to when I defended my world title against Vladimir Matyushenko with a fractured foot. I’ve fought with a torn ACl, torn meniscus, ruptured disc, a ruptured disc in my neck, fractured orbital bone…there’s so many things that I’ve done in my career to sacrifice and do it no matter what.
When I fought Ken Shamrock for the first time, I had ten stitches in my eye and still fought. People don’t understand that because they don’t fight and don’t understand what goes into it. The fights are fun, but it’s the training that goes into it that’s serious. That’s what we get paid for. What I get paid to do is get in there and train. I bust my ass so I know I competed at the highest level that I possibly could. If I train and fight with an injury, does it make it hard? Yes. When I had a fractured orbital bone and disc like when I fought Forrest Griffin in UFC 106, I still fought because I needed the money at that time. I had to pay my bills and take care of my twin boys. People don’t understand the mind games that go on through a career and the mental torment that we put ourselves through. It’s difficult. It’s challenging.
SF: Pressing on through injury is tough by itself, but then you have to cut weight on top of that. Which would you say is harder?
Ortiz: I’ve been cutting weight since wrestling in high school. It’s hard, but I’m used to it. Those last 2 or 3 pounds are hard because you can’t hardly eat or drink anything. There’s days before the weigh-ins where I can only eat and drink a couple ounces of water and food. It’s difficult, but it’s a short term difficult. It’s taxing on the body and the mind, but when you make the weight it makes you that much more focused. You feel pretty much unbeatable.
SF: There’s been a really bad streak of high profile injuries in MMA, particularly in the UFC. Do you think it’s just bad luck? What do you think is happening?
Ortiz: I think these kids are realizing just how hard this training is. Their bodies aren’t able to take the damage as well as they thought they would. It’s brutal on the body and it just shows that the window of competition is not open too long for a lot of these guys. I’ve been competing for 17 1/2 years because I’ve taken care of my body and always worked hard. They have to learn how to train smarter, not harder. That’s how I came in when I first started. I trained as much as I could 6 days a week 8 hours a day and killed myself. When I fought, I put myself in every predicament I possible could, bad or good. A lot of these guys do the same thing and their bodies just can’t take the damage.
SF: Scott Coker is a martial artist and competed professionally in his career. As a whole, do you think Bellator is a more understanding or compassionate organization than the UFC? UFC athletes seem to be under a lot of pressure and are getting pushed harder for big events. Bellator seems to be doing relatively well even on a very tight production schedule. Do you think that has anything to do with it?
Ortiz: You hit the nail on the head, that’s exactly what it is. When you have guys fighting back to back to back, their bodies are not going to be able to take it. When Scott Coker came into Bellator he said we’re going to do 16 events a year and give you guys a break in between. I think that’s what it’s all about. He wants to build superstars and household names. Coming to Bellator has been a blessing in disguise and Scott’s really playing a game of chess right now. He’s putting the pieces in the right position and he knows what he’s doing. I’m glad that Viacom, Spike and Bellator hired him because he’s a master. He built Strikeforce from the ground up before getting bought by the UFC. I think Bellator is going to take over the world.
SF: It’s amazing just how many fighters became part of the UFC following their acquisition of Strikeforce.
Ortiz: They really had no choice. The UFC came in and bought Strikeforce and all of the contracts, so that meant no negotiation. They said fight in the UFC under your former contract, if not, go somewhere else. That’s their motto, straightforward.
SF: Do you have any plans of going back to TNA Wrestling?
Ortiz: I would love to go back to TNA, of course. But right now it’s about getting a world title around my waste. That’s my goal. I want to help Bellator become the #1 brand in the world and I want to help promote as much as possible. I’ve always been a big fan of professional wrestling and I think Dixie Carter is a great businesswoman. The wrestlers are very respectful of me and they’re hard workers. I had a great experience in TNA.
Catch Tito vs. Bonnar in Bellator 131 on Saturday on Spike at 9/8C.