Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva are two of the most important fighters in MMA history. Last night, at UFC 132, the two men saw their careers go in markedly different directions.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dickens opened A Tale of Two Cities with that immortal line and it's never been more true than it was last night in the UFC Octagon. Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva are two of the best light heavyweights of all time. They were the linchpins for their promotions at a time when the modern sport was in its formative stages in America and Japan, main eventing and attracting a huge audience for the UFC and PRIDE respectively. In recent years both have struggled mightily. But after UFC 132 one man is suddenly relevant again, the other one step closer to being merely a memory.
Tito Ortiz is the Rodney Dangerfield of mixed martial arts. He's as big a star as the UFC has ever seen. Unfortunately, fans remember him more for his combative relationships - with his on and off again girlfriend (porn star Jenna Jameson) and his boss Dana White. Few seem to recall a time when Ortiz was perhaps the best fighter in the world. He reminded those critics last night why he's a household name (assuming your home includes a computer with Bloody Elbow bookmarked and at least one TapouT shirt hanging in the closet).
Ortiz caught Ryan Bader, a top ten light heavyweight, with a short right hand. The savvy Ortiz didn't follow up with out of position ground and pound; instead he calmly sized up the situation and locked the loopy Bader in a guillotine choke as well. Ortiz, who was a -800 underdog at some sports books, had his hand raised for the first time since beating Ken Shamrock all the way back in October, 2006. An ecstatic Ortiz pulled out a classic for his post fight celebration, mock digging a grave for Bader and thanking his team in an emotional post fight interview.
An emotional Wanderlei Silva left the cage last night as well - but for the Brazilian striker the prevailing sentiment was frustration. For his fans, a sense of loss hung in the air. For four years Silva was as feared as anyone in the MMA world. With his intense, dead eyed stare, his eerie wrist gyrations, and his tattooed head, Silva exuded menace. He obliterated everyone in his path, leaving a trail of destruction in Japan that rivaled Godzilla in his prime.
American fans have seen a different "Axe Murderer." Since coming to the States in 2007, Silva is just 2-5. Three of those losses were by devastating knockout. Fans were used to seeing a Silva fight end in unconsciousness. We just weren't used to Wanderlei being on the wrong end of the concussive blows.
Against Chris Leben, a tough and serviceable fighter but no world beater, Silva looked lost. He was clipped by a punch and couldn't recover. When the referee pulled Leben off of him, Silva started grappling with the official. It was sad to see a man once held in such awe reduced to the role of victim.
At UFC 25, Ortiz beat Silva to become UFC light heavyweight champion and lay claim to the title of best light heavyweight in the world. At UFC 132, their paths crossed once again. Once again they leave the arena heading in markedly different directions. Silva must be thinking about retirement. If he isn't, he should be. Ortiz is likely fantasy booking another run at UFC gold. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.