Tito Ortiz On His Legendary Career & His Rivalries With Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell & Dana White
Tito Ortiz (@titoortiz) is a professional mixed martial artist and a UFC Hall Of Famer. He sits down with Chris Van Vliet at his house in Huntington Beach to talk about his legendary career and his rivalries with opponents like Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell and Guy Mezger, how he got started in UFC, the regrets he has about his relationship with UFC President Dana White, why he wants to have one more match at Freedom Fight Night, his WWE tryout, how he came up with his iconic gravedigger celebration taunt, how being a father has changed him and much more.
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“I didn’t do anything too special. A few of my buddies, special force guys, we partied and did a bunch of shots. I don’t remember the end of the night but we had fun and all got home safe. It’s just one of those things where I am glad I have the fans I have. Even the ones that hate me as well as the ones that love me. The scariest ones are the ones that don’t talk about me at all.”
“We would still be sitting here. I had big dreams at a really young age. When I was 8 or 9, I had the dream of being on a red carpet, back then they didn’t have red carpets. This might have been God guiding me. But things didn’t come easy, the harder I worked, they did come. I just put my time into eat, sleep, train and compete. Before that I knew that there was something I was going to do, whether it was a professional wrestler or boxer. By accident, MMA came about. I fought on UFC 13 in 1997 and I fought for free, no other UFC fighter has ever fought for free, I just did it to see how good I could be. I was training with tank Abbot at the time and asked him to give me a fight. So I fought on May 30th 1997 and stopped the guy in 22 seconds. I visualise myself in the finals, and the guy who was in the finals got hurt, so I was the replacement. I was fighting Guy Metzger in the finals and got caught up in the guillotine, I didn’t know what that was at the time. I had to tap but I was hooked. As a kid growing up on the streets, I was always dying for the attention. I had no idea what I was getting into, but this was the making of Tito Ortiz.”
“I was really nervous. My high school wrestling coach fought in the UFC and got elbowed in the head and knocked out, they had to do a skull reconstruction. It put the fear in me that you can get hurt but that put the fire in my heart. I was like you know what, I better train hard. I was training 3 times a day, 6 days a week and training hard for the fight. So when I did come about on May 30th, I had the mentality of being a shark and got to pace about, eat before you get eaten.”
“The first sport was wrestling. My freshman year I walked in and asked where is the ring? Back in the day, I thought it was real and until I got into wrestling I didn’t know the difference. But fast forward 26 years and I end up going to the WWF training facility and worked there for 2 weeks. I got to see how hard it truly was. You know what, they say it is not real. The outcome is predetermined, but the stuff they go through, they are true athletes and I have respect for each and every one of them for what they have done. But I found my happy medium with MMA, boxing of Muhammad Ali and Hulk Hogan in WWF. I got to have that aspect in MMA. people call it cockiness and I call it confidence. I has the bleach blond hair and the flames on my shorts that people were attracted to.”
“They didn’t really have that at the time, there was only a little bit of that with Tank. I had that championship mentality because of wrestling. You know, hard work, dedication, sacrifice and discipline. You will either be a victor or a victim and I worked super hard to be a victor and my kids see that. My kids have watched me evolve as a fighter and a businessman and as a father and a man in general. I am handing down these qualities to my kids, the sacrifice and the discipline I had in my career.”
“Oh wow. I had a couple of them I had a teacher Tom Wyneham, who helped me out in high school a lot. Prior to that there were some guys that I fished with in Newport Beach. But I never had one I just took little things from each of them. I had a stepdad during high school that always told me what not to do. But there was never a positive grab and a hug and a ‘I love you son.’ I never had that so I want my kids to have that. It is something that all men need. It is not easy to be a parent, but it is my choice.”
“Now see this is one of the things that people, and I get that the government have softened everyone up in the last 30 years. A lot of parents have done this with iPads, cell phones and videogames, which is their get away from me time. That sounds harsh, but I be a parent that is responsible for my kids and their future. So I want to make sure that their education is important and that they work hard. I don’t give them everything, but they can have everything. When they get straight A’s and do their chores, they can have what they want. Since 4 years old they have never had a cell phone or an iPad, I want them to be socially acceptable to other people.”
“After the third fight we got a little closer to each other. A few years later we met up and now we are cool. That was the only trilogy in the UFC that I did that was honest. [Chris asks about Chuck Liddell] No that was all fabricated, he sold out.”
“I think the last time I saw him was in Vegas. It was a ‘what’s up?’ and that was about it.”
“Yeah we fought for belts. I put my UFC belt on the line against his WWE belt. I got it and I told my kids I was going to win it for them, they are huge fans of WWE. they walked out with me and I told them I would give them an extra $50,000 if we made it past the first round. We got about 2 minutes in so I’m like it’s time to turn this up. So I got him on his back and rear naked choke. He trained with Ryan Bader in Arizona, I called Ryan because we fought each other. I asked Ryan how he was doing and he said ‘Tito, just train. Train as hard as you can and you won’t have a problem.’ And that was a bit more motivation, I put in 20 weeks, more than I ever have in my life. My cardio was impeccable and I wish that I did that earlier in my career. But now I relaize that my body can sustain a lot more damage and I just pushed through it.”
“No lifting. All I did was cardio, mat work, bag work and sparring. We are talking 2,000 calories a day, that’s nothing. On a normal camp I am eating 4,500 just to maintain.”
“Maybe if I box someone at my level. Anderson Silva is a lot more advanced than me. In MMA it was all about aggression, but boxing is like chess, you have to sit back and play the game. There are a lot of things that are very methodical.”
“So I went to I think it was WrestleMania 34 or 35 when they came to Anaheim [Chris corrects Tito Ortiz that it was WrestleMania 2000] Right and they had the ladder match that day. It was The Hardy Brothers vs. The Dudley Brothers. They went to interview me like a normal interview, but they wanted to see what kind of personality I have. I wish I had known that because I would have really sold myself way better. I think I was too mellow, they wanted to see crazy. And I didn’t know that, I was very polite and respectful and never heard anything back. In 2019 Shane McMahon reached out and said ‘What do you think about coming in?’ So I went for a try-out, went and did it, and I didn’t think about it but they wanted someone that is over the top. Not crazy, but an eye catcher. I went to the PC and trained with Norman Smiley, amazing teacher, and learned things that normally take 6 months to learn. But then nothing came of it.”
“Yeah I did a little bit of TNA and it was fun as an enforcer, but I wanted to do some matches. I think I have what it takes and it would be a lot of hard work. I did the 2 weeks of training twice a day, it was hard, like being in college wrestling again. I had no pain after, I’ve had 4 neck surgeries.”
"So I had just win my first World Title at a Mui Thai event and this guy from Thailand came out and did a gravedigger before the match. I am like I am stealing that. This was in 2000, I fought Evan Tanner, did it and it just blew up from there."
"I didn't worry about alienating people, because it is my children's future. I worked for Donald Trump on The Celebrity Apprentice, prior to that I knew what he was like as a father. He would be events in Jersey and he was there with his kids, and that is a good father and a good man. Everyone loved him until he as president, but then all of a sudden he exposed what was really going on in this country and was willing to fight for it. He lost over $1 billion as president, never received any money from the government president, and that showed what kind of a patriot he was. For me it wasn't about my fans, it was about my family and my kid's future. I have been to Iraq 6 times, they are all there fighting for the rights we have here. So when he became president, I backed it."
"Yeah I made a mistake a while back I said that I will never fight again for the UFC and I think he is holding me to that. I wish he would get over the hard feelings but that is life."
"Happy family, being a hard worker and knowing that nothing can break me."