Tito Ortiz wants to end his MMA career with a solid win against Chael Sonnen at Bellator 170

Tito Ortiz, right, and Forrest Griffin battle during UFC 148 in 2012. The 41-year-old Ortiz is fighting again on Saturday.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

The case can be made that no man was more instrumental in growing the Southern California mixed martial arts fan base than former Huntington Beach High wrestler Tito Ortiz.

So this week, nearly 20 years after his debut at UFC 13, Ortiz, 41, dressed himself in a brown suit and tie, seethed at his Saturday opponent – veteran former two-division UFC title contender Chael Sonnen – and said he will leave the sport following his Bellator 170 main event at the historic Forum.

“Twenty years is good enough for me. I want to make it an even number – two decades,” Ortiz said at a news conference in Hollywood this week. “This is my kingdom and on Saturday night I’m going to roar and I’m going to show jackals like this, Chael, what a king is really like.”


The words may have come across as shtick – and creatively mouthy “Celebrity Apprentice” cast member Sonnen was all too happy to poke fun at Ortiz’s seriousness – but this is one stop where the oft-mentioned talk of legacy has substance.

While the UFC had President Dana White to hawk fights by 2002, it was the appeal and business potential of the charismatic “Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” whom White originally managed, who helped persuade Las Vegas casino magnate Lorenzo Fertitta to buy the organization and build it into a mainstream sports enterprise that sold for $4 billion last year.

Ortiz had a dual charm, like Oscar De La Hoya, of being photogenic and talented as a ground-and-pound fighter while also divisive as hard-core fans usually rooted against the pretty boy in his string of major fights against UFC tough guys Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture.

Ortiz, a UFC hall of fame member, won the light-heavyweight belt in 2000 against Wanderlei Silva, successfully defended it five times, then surrendered it to Couture in 2003 before generating a then UFC-record-selling pay-per-view against Liddell in their 2006 rematch.

All the while, Ortiz was selling the sport and himself.

Injuries, personal drama during his past relationship with porn actress Jenna Jameson, feuding with White and age saw Ortiz yield to others, including fellow Southland fighter Ronda Rousey, to carry the UFC banner.

But his interest in participating in the best fight possible has remained. He lost to Bellator’s then-light-heavyweight champion Liam McGeary in 2015, and now reunites with Sonnen after losing to him in a college wrestling tournament between Cal State Bakersfield and Oregon two decades ago.

“I remember getting so [upset],” after the setback on Ortiz’s birthday, “and thinking, ‘Should I sit here and say woe is me? Or should I go run stadiums?’ It’s made a huge mark on me as a person. Being a quitter or being a winner? Saturday night will show,” Ortiz said.

“I’ve trained hard, put in work for 14 weeks. I dislike this man. He’s not even a man. He’s a child. He’s said some personal things about me and lit a fire under [me] like no other. This guy thinks he can come in after eight weeks of camp, after three years off, and compete with me? I’m going to hurt him. I’m not looking for a submission. I’m going to dominate him. I have something to pay back.”

Sonnen, fighting for the first time since November 2013 following suspensions for banned substances and television analyst work, long was jealous of the fame Ortiz achieved after their wrestling match.

Sonnen said he felt rejected by the UFC before he began to let his mouth roar. He nearly upset former long-reigning middleweight champion Anderson Silva in 2010 before losing convincingly to Silva in the rematch and then-light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones in 2013.

“My contention was I was the baddest dude in the world and I couldn’t get my opportunity,” Sonnen said. “When I got it, I ran with it and I’m still here. I thought I could’ve beat Tito. It took 20 years. We’re all going to find out if that statement’s true or not. I want to end on a legends’ ...-whipping tour and I’m starting with Tito.”

Wanderlei Silva and perhaps Quinton “Rampage” Jackson could follow for Sonnen, who starts a six-fight deal with Bellator and said at Thursday’s news conference that he wins “Celebrity Apprentice.”

He also sought to further agitate Ortiz, who frequently shot menacing glares at Sonnen, who has suggested Ortiz has run through his money.

“In this sport, you don’t need to wear a suit and he keeps showing up in one,” Sonnen said. “It’s like a local funeral parlor closed and he went and took one off a corpse -- shows up looking like a maître d at Golden Corral. I’m just happy he got here. Someone got him the Uber app or he bummed a ride.”

Sonnen also delivered a crass blow at Jameson, prompting Ortiz to label him a “punk,” stirring up tension that Bellator President Scott Coker said has made this his organization’s biggest fight ever, with more than 10,000 expected at the Forum.

“He talks well,” Ortiz said. “His mouth has gotten him every big fight he’s had. And every time it’s time to present and perform, he’s failed. That’s not going to change. I come with heart, hard work, determination and perseverance.”


Who: Tito Ortiz (18-12-1), Huntington Beach, vs. Chael Sonnen (28-14-1), West Linn, Ore., light-heavyweights

When: Saturday, first bout at 3:30 p.m.; broadcast portion begins at 6 p.m.

Where: The Forum

Television: Spike TV

Tickets: $30-$500

Undercard: Paul Daley (38-14-2) vs. Brennan Ward (14-4), welterweights; Ralek Gracie (3-0) vs. Hisaki Kato (7-2), middleweights; Georgi Karakhanyan (26-6-1) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (13-3), featherweights; Derek Anderson (14-2) vs. Derek Campos (17-6), lightweights.