The "Cold War" between UFC President Dana White and superstar fighter Tito Ortiz, an off-again on-again battle to the finish, is officially back in the "on" position. Yesterday White revealed to the world that Ortiz, fresh off his biggest win in recent memory, had turned down the opportunity to face Rashad Evans next month in the main event of UFC 133.
"I just asked Dana White if Lyoto accepted the fight. His answer: "No, and Tito turned it down." There is no replacement yet," MMA Fighting's Mike Chiappetta reported on Twitter. Tito, riding high after a win over top 10 fighter Ryan Bader, was quickly brought down to Earth.
Let's be clear here - fighters turn down short notice fights all the time. Asking a 36 year old athlete to prepare to fight again, barely a month after his last bout, is asking a lot. Typically, the answer is, and should be, no. Especially for Ortiz, a fighter with a long injury history who probably sprained something just considering taking another fight so quickly.
These kinds of negotiations usually fly under the radar. The UFC doesn't want to make any of their fighters look like chickens and risk damaging their tough guy brand. But with Ortiz, the gloves are usually off. Tito took the high road on Twitter, explaining to fans why he made the decision not to fight Evans:
I have a life and things to take care of. The fight game is about making the right choices of my career. If you knew what I have been going through you all would understand. Peaking for a fight is what makes a fighter unstoppable! Timing is everything in life. This is a rebuild year for me not do or die. The time will come again! #positive
Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Ortiz ended up taking the fight. He's a savvy businessman and this is a ticket to a big pay day and a chance to get back in the good graces of a desperate UFC management team. Ortiz may just be waiting for the pot to sweeten before taking a bite. Last week he told our own Luke Thomas he could be ready to fight again quickly:
Luke Thomas: Tito, now you beat Ryan Bader. People have him ranked differently. The USA Today/SB Nation Consensus MMA Rankings has him at seven. In your mind, beating Bader, where does it put you in the UFC Light Heavyweight division?
Tito Ortiz: I really don't care. It's all about fights now. Whatever Joe Silva and the UFC wants me to do, I'm ready to compete and I'll beat anyone at the top level. I'd love to fight the winner of Shogun and Forrest Griffin, just because those are the top guys at my Light Heavyweight division. I want to fight the top guys in the world. Guys who have names. Guys who I don't mind trying to make a mark off of me by them trying to win which they're gonna become losers. I don't think they'll want to do it as Ryan Bader did on Saturday night.
Luke Thomas: How fast can you turn around if you could game plan?
Tito Ortiz: Two weeks.
The battle between White and Ortiz has been a constant in the MMA media since White and the Fertitta brothers took over the UFC in 2001. White, who was Ortiz's manager before assuming his current role as UFC President, took an Ortiz contract holdout in 2003 to heart. Not since Vince McMahon and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin has a feud between a boss and his top employee gotten so heated. Highlights in the war of words that followed include Ortiz donning a "Dana is my B*tch" t-shirt during weigh ins and White creating a reality show based around a boxing match with Ortiz that never materialized.
While it's been an entertaining sideshow over the years,I just hope, when it's all over, Tito is remembered as the legend and Hall of Fame level fighter he was. In his prime he carried a struggling company and established himself as the top light heavyweight in the sport. That shouldn't be forgotten.