Tito Ortiz was talking a few hours after Hall of Fame-bound running back LaDainian Tomlinson announced his retirement.
Tomlinson called it quits Monday by signing a ceremonial one-day contract with the San Diego Chargers and leaving the game for good.
Ortiz is planning to leave the mixed martial arts stage as well, but he’ll do so not in a bow tie like Tomlinson, but after a third slugfest with his rival Forrest Griffin July 7 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“This is my chance to end up on top,” Ortiz, 37, said in a telephone interview from his Big Bear training compound. “I’ve put in seven weeks of hard work up here to make sure I’ll be at my best.
“It’s nice to be injury free. No neck or back problems. I know Forrest is confident too. I know it’ll be a great fight – exactly how I want to go out. With an opportunity to show how good I really am.”
Ortiz will also be inducted into the Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Fame the weekend of the fight, a tribute to his longevity, popularity and skill that made the Huntington Beach High and hyped “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” a magnet who drew fans to the once-underground sport.
Ortiz debuted at UFC 13 in 1997, won the light-heavyweight championship in 2000 against Wanderlei Silva and engaged in the most lucrative fight in UFC history when he was defeated by rival Chuck Liddell at UFC 66 in 2006.
Ortiz, a former CIF Southern Section champion wrestler, used that skill base to hold the light-heavyweight belt for more than three years before being defeated by Randy Couture.
By then, Ortiz’s charisma had gripped sports fans intrigued by the more combative form of fighting, and led him to butt heads with his former manager and UFC President Dana White over money.
“Being outspoken was important … I helped make the UFC what it is today with Chuck Liddell, Royce Gracie and Randy Couture,” Ortiz said. “Some said I was outspoken in a bad way, but I was just trying to educate the fans what being a UFC fighter is all about.
“My only regret is going against Dana the way I did. I’m thankful where I am as a man and a businessman now, and a lot of that is because of Dana. He taught me a lot as my manager, and I was fighting him for the things he taught me.”
White obviously forgave, letting Ortiz back into the UFC after a split in 2008, and now permitting him into the Hall of Fame despite his 1-6-1 record in his last eight fights.
White perhaps deservedly painted Ortiz as overly dramatic, fueling increased disdain from fans. Ortiz ranked his July 2011 upset submission of wrestling standout Ryan Bader as his second-greatest fight behind the Silva title victory, because “I think I shut all the haters up.”
He ranked his thrilling technical knockout of rival Ken Shamrock in 2002 as his third greatest effort, because “there was real bad blood, and you got to see someone dismantled – destroyed – in an excellent three-rounder.”
Now, Ortiz said he has yet to fully chart his retirement life, expressing interest in a UFC front-office position if it were to open, or as an MMA television analyst. He’s signed up for acting classes in September too.
“From a kid who didn’t come from much success growing up, but watched Muhammad Ali and Hulk Hogan, to where I am today … I tell kids, ‘You can achieve anything you want as long as you stick with it,’ ” Ortiz said.