For Tito Ortiz, it's still always personal

Elias Cepeda
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Tito Ortiz celebrates his win after one round against Chuck Liddell during their light heavyweight bout at The Forum on Nov. 24, 2018 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

Tito Ortiz has been a professional fighter for over 22 years. During the relatively brief periods where he did not have fights in front of him — while out with injuries, during short-lived retirements — Ortiz knows exactly what he missed most.

“I missed the pressure of the fight,” he tells Yahoo Sports ahead of his Dec. 7 Combate Americas pay-per-view bout against Alberto “El Patrón” Rodríguez.

“I missed the media, preparing for the fight, the training camps. I love training, especially when I’m healthy, when I don’t have pain like I had prior to surgery. I’m able to train now. I’ve had back surgery, four neck surgeries, three knee surgeries, and now that I don’t have any of those injuries I can really focus on my training camp.”

Ortiz says being more physically healthy at 44 years old than he was for much of his career makes training for this upcoming fight a pleasure, but so does not having problems at home or strife with his promoter as he did for so many years while working with the UFC and its president Dana White, who used to be Ortiz’s manager.

“Not having negativity in my life, either with relationships or the president of the company, and having my body in the right place makes me feel like I did in 2001 to 2003, when someone had my back, when I wasn’t being talked bad about. When I’m in that state of mind, I’m very successful. I’m very focused because of my girlfriend Amber Nicole Miller. Combate Americas is treating me well, the press, reporters have been positive to me.”

Ortiz continues to be outspoken as he has his entire career, whether it comes to the fight world and speaking up for himself against promoters, or in supporting U.S. President Donald Trump and his agenda outside of the sporting sphere. These days, Ortiz insists that he is still fighting in the cage for all the right reasons, but admits that there were two points in his life where he really did think that he was done with the sport as a competitor.

“There were two times,” he recounts. “One was when I left the UFC. I had Dana down my throat, non-stop, I had a bad situation with my kids. I had to reinvent myself. Another time was after the fight with Chael Sonnen. I had three disc replacements in my neck and I wanted to see how my body reacted. I thought I was done. Then, Chuck Liddell called me out. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Ortiz (R) says he decided to fight on after finally besting his rival Chuck Liddell in 2018 because he still loves the grind of competition. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

When Ortiz retired in 2012 after losing a close decision to Forrest Griffin for the second time, the former dominant world light heavyweight champion had only managed to win once in his previous nine bouts, over about a five-and-a-half year span. Since returning to action in 2014, Ortiz has won four out of five, including finish wins over Sonnen and Liddell in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

The win over Liddell was particularly satisfying as the two former training partners-turned bitter rivals had met in their primes twice before, with “The Iceman” stopping Ortiz each time. Walking away after finally besting Liddell would have been a perfect way for the Huntington Beach fighter to end his career, but he says he didn’t seriously consider hanging up his gloves afterward.

“I considered it to a certain extent, but I love competing,” he reasons. “I want to do it while I still feel young. I feel better than I did when I was 30. I have a different mentality right now. I’m in such a happy place. I love getting in front of the camera, I love sparring, wrestling and weight training. I’ve put in 17 weeks so far, with two more weeks left. I love having an eight-pack at 44 years old. I love biking 19 miles, I love getting in the gym at 10 p.m. and lifting until midnight. I love wrestling three times a week, sparring twice a week.

“I want to look back when I’m 50 and be able to say I took advantage of my time, that I had no regrets, that I lived my life in a positive manner. When I’m a happy person, I’m a dangerous person. And I want to show my fans who think they’re in a situation where they don’t think they can do something, when they feel they’re at the bottom of the barrel, when they don’t think they can pull something off, that they can. Look at my history. I’ve been down, and I’ve come back.”

Ortiz credits his girlfriend Amber Nicole Miller for helping him achieve happiness and says that when he's happy out of the ring, he's dangerous inside of it. (REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

If Ortiz is contented and happy in his life, it still doesn’t show up when he’s near his next opponent. In fact, Ortiz has already begun his face-to-face heated trash talk with Rodriguez.

If Ortiz fights best when happy overall in his life, he still needs no small amount of enmity between himself and opponents to feel like himself. “It’s something I learned from [fighting] Randy Couture,” he reveals.

The much older Couture faced Ortiz back in 2003 when the younger fighter was on top of the world and reigned as UFC light heavyweight champion. Then, Couture dominated him for five rounds and took the belt from Ortiz.

“I was too respectful of Randy,” he says. “Randy was someone I always looked up to. I looked up to him as a wrestler for years and then all of the sudden he was in UFC 13 in the heavyweight tournament. I respected him then also, and then he moved to light heavyweight. I had so much respect for him, I smiled at him, and then I lost to him. And I lost to him by decision, by being outwrestled.

“That’s when I learned I need to keep my edge. I need to have that edge. It’s psychological warfare. Muhammad Ali did it. I have to play the game the way I know how. When I fight someone, no matter who they are, I look at it this way — I’ve done this half my whole life. It’s what I know, it’s what I love. It’s how I feed my family, and they’re trying to take it away from me. So, I take it personal no matter what.”