From the brink of losing his entire mixed martial arts career, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz defied expectations by defeating and submitting Ryan Bader at UFC 132. In this exclusive interview, the former champion talks about nearly walking away from the sport, how he stopped Bader and what's next for him at age 36.
It was do or die for Tito Ortiz at UFC 132: Cruz vs. Faber 2. The former UFC light heavyweight champion had been placed on public notice by UFC President Dana White that anything short of a win last Saturday night definitively meant the end of his UFC career and likely the end of his prize fighting career altogether. Ortiz, at death's door, defied the 5 to 1 odds and shocked not only White, but the entire MMA community by submitting top-ranked opponent Ryan Bader in the first round.
In this exclusive interview from MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan, we talked to Ortiz on Sunday, the day following his spectacular win, to get his reaction to the harrowing experience. Ortiz, rejuvenated with confidence and brimming with pride, admits to nearly calling it quits in MMA, details the unmatched elation he felt following the win, and who he'd like to face next in the light heavyweight division.
Full transcription and audio below:
Luke Thomas: Tito, how are you sir?
Tito Ortiz: What's up guys? How are you doing man? Everybody else who's my fan who are listening, god man, let me tell you, talking about being on a whole different level of respect, confidence, and hard work that pays off. It shows and I'm really really happy. Thanks for having me on your show man, I appreciate it so much.
Luke Thomas: Tito, not just beating Ryan Bader, but emotionally pushing back all the criticism, pushing back all the self-doubt and then beating Ryan Bader, is that athletically or even professionally the hardest thing you've ever done in your career?
Tito Ortiz: Yeah, this is the greatest time of my life right now. I look at the fact that I beat Ryan Bader, who was fifth in the world, top five in the world in all of MMA, at all levels, and I proved that I could still dominate. People had a lot of questions to see if I could still compete with a lot of people in the Light Heavyweight Division at this level. With the surgeries I've gone through, I'm very thankful for Dr. William Smith out of Las Vegas who gave me the surgery and be able to get in the cage and be able to compete at the level I know I can. Last night I proved it man, against Ryan Bader who was one of those things, I can look back. It was all the hard work and dedication of my team at the Punishment Athletic Center. Jason Perillo, Mike Giovani, and of course Ricardo Abreu. Those three guys put me through hell so I was prepared for this fight. Let me tell you, all my friends are happy and they're able to look at each other and the people around them and be able to say "I told you so". It's nice to be back on top man. It's a gratifying feeling.
Luke Thomas: I want to talk about your camp in just a moment. On a personal note, the Grave Digger, was that instinctual like where had you beaten him...did you plan that or were you just so elated after you got the tap?
Tito Ortiz: That actually was instinctual. Two days prior on Thursday, I went to visit the guys on the Ultimate Fighter, I believe it is 14 that is coming out. It's Bisping vs Jason Miller. It was a great opportunity, I got to speak to the kids and kinda show them and after the training session they were like "Tito, man, you gotta do the Grave Digger in the cage. Please do it for me." I said, "You know what guys? I can't do it tonight. Wait until Saturday Night and I'm gonna pull it off." I know those guys got to watch it live so when I did the Grave Digger, it was just one of those things to dedicate to them that when you can believe and be the best you can be in life, you can achieve anything. I showed them that with hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything because I've just been doubted for such a long time and I was proved those people right. The ones who believed in me, the ones who had my back no matter what. And wow...I shocked the world.
Luke Thomas: You really did shock the world Tito. Was there ever a moment, even in your own mind behind honest with yourself...was there ever a moment after the surgeries, after maybe reading something online where you said "Maybe I can't do this?" Did self-doubt ever creep in and did it scare you at all? To what extent did self-doubt play a part?
Tito Ortiz: ...it means everything to me. I woke up that morning with a lot of doubt. Thinking that I didn't want to do it anymore. And I really didn't. I was like "I don't want to fight" cause I didn't want to fight. But then the braveness came out of my heart and if you want your career, if you want to fight for everything you believe in, you gotta fight today. You gotta talk to yourself like that. You gotta ask those questions. And once those questions are answered, you'll start believing in yourself like I did. When it was over and I did my grave digger routine and I spoke to my children, my family, my fans, the ones who've been around me the whole time to motivate me and push me to the next level; I've done that. I have a great team around me like I said it was one of those things where I answered those questions in my mind that was doubt. And after coming off of five or six years of not winning and coming so close to winning, I doubted myself and I should never do that because I'm one of the greatest Light Heavyweights in the world. I proved that by dominating for such a long time at the Light Heavyweight division and being the champion for five years. I did what Jon "Bones" Jones couldn't do and that was finish Bader in a minute and fifty-six seconds.
Luke Thomas: I hadn't thought about it that way, that's true. Let's talk about the fight for just a moment. That inside right hook, it was sort of a short uppercut, a shovel punch. You had mentioned you had trained for that fight in your training camp. Walk me through how you won that fight including the punch and then the arm in guillotine.
Tito Ortiz: It came up to the fight itself. Jason Perillo said "Tito, you have great hands, use them tonight. He was so positive. I need someone positive who is going to reenforce the schemes that I made through training. I'm invested in the UFC but I'm invested in myself at the same time showing everyone that I am one of the greatest. Throwing that inside punch, I bobbed to the right a little bit away from the hook and I threw a short right hand and then it was elbow, elbow, elbow. He tried shooting in on me and I was like "arm in guillotine" and Ricardo is my Jiu Jitsu trainer and he told me that I can submit anyone. And it's confidence. When you're winning, your confidence is through the roof but when you're losing that self-doubt is like "am I doing the right thing?". And last night I knew I was doing the right thing when I sunk in the guillotine and I squeezed and wasn't letting go so the referee took me off.
Luke Thomas: There was a look on your face that when you had the guillotine you were squeezing with every inch...am I right that you squeezed that like you've never squeezed a guillotine before?
Tito Ortiz: I'm serious. I had a guillotine that was arm in and I was thinking I'm gonna rip this guy's neck and arm off, that's what I thought in my mind. Squeeze as hard as possible. Referee had to rip me off. He tapped, I didn't react. I'm sorry and I apologize to Ryan Bader. I really just went in trying to finish and trying to rip his head off. The referee came in and he pulled me off and that was the difference. I don't think he woke up till a couple minutes after. I really just tried to put him out. That was my job. Thank god I got submission of the night, thank you Dana White and the UFC. I really feel proud today man. I can't explain the joy I feel just because everything I think about it winning.
Luke Thomas: Did you talk to Dana White after the fight?
Tito Ortiz: Yeah I talked to him. He was cool about it. I know he was a little bummed that I won. I apologize that I didn't lose it for him. But this is for my career. This is for my life. It's everything that I live for in the UFC as a fighter, as a father, and as a businessman. Trying to compete for the fans and show them what I got.
Luke Thomas: Can you speak to the nature of what was going on before the Thursday press conference? Dana was missing and I guess there was some issue between you and him. Are you at liberty to talk about that?
Tito Ortiz: Actually, you know what? It's just one of those things that Dana and I go through. It's a backdoor process and we're trying to rebuild and rekindle the relationship that we had prior. We battle back and forth but everyone is talking about it so I guess it made some kinda sense to make it happen.
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.
Luke Thomas: You could fight at UFC 133, 134, or 135 easily, right?
Tito Ortiz: Whatever they want, I'm ready. I'm healthy, I'm good, no problems. My knee's a little sore from when Ryan kicked the inside of my knee but I checked it so his foot must be killing today. That and his chin.
Luke Thomas: Let's not talk about the fight but your career at large. I guess what's interesting to me is you are out of the frying pan but you realize you are back into the fire right? Beating Ryan Bader only makes the challenges way more difficult. Are you worried about fighting top five competition so soon after just beating Bader? Would you want someone else in the top 10? How far in advance are you looking to fight top five competition?
Tito Ortiz: Listen, I've fought top five guys in the world my whole career and I will continue to do that. Whoever they want me to fight, whenever they want me to fight, I'm gonna set up and I'm gonna compete against the top guys. I've always been competing against the top guys int he world. Rashad, Forrest Griffen, Shogun...whoever takes me to the Light Heavyweight title. I would love for it to be Jon "Bones" Jones but I know he and Rampage are fighting each other. I need one or two more wins. I just have to keep dominating guys in the Light Heavyweight division and keep doing my job and give the fans what they want and that's a great fight. I want to fight top guys. The top guys are who I have to fight. I'm sick of guys trying to make a name off of me.
Luke Thomas: Let's talk about your camp for a little bit. You had mentioned in your post-fight speech that your camp was real minimalist...that you had people who were dedicated around you but there weren't many of them. What happened to the guys you were close with? The "Razor" Robs [McCullough], the Tikis [Ghosn], where are these guys?
Tito Ortiz: "Razor" Rob is a really good friend. Tiki is trying to find himself. A lot of guys that I started with, a lot of guys that I trained with, you find who your true friends are. When you make money, when you lose, those who want to be around you and part of the fame; it really comes down to guys who were around me no matter what. I got a group of guys that are very supportive who want to bring me to the next level. Jason Perillo, Mike Giovani, and Ricardo Abru are my camp right now and those are the guys that really pressing forward. Saul Soliz out of Houston, he was my training camp for the past six years. He watched me go through a physical problem with myself. My back problem and my neck problem and he pushed me through those to compete against guys at the top level. It's about confidence and being healthy are really what it matters about and I gotta think about the positive and getting to the next level and finding the best guys to train with as possible.
Luke Thomas: Would you consider training with an established camp such as Randy's camp if that were possible? Or someone on the West coast closer to San Jose or do you want to be the nucleus of your own team?
Tito Ortiz: No, not at all. It's just one of those things where you have to stay focused and stay positive and realize that the people around you support you. I gotta do the best thing possible for a future and that's what I'm doing. I told you there were guys who didn't have my back and now we all stand proudly at the top and it's beautiful.
Luke Thomas: Tito, what was the first thing you thought to yourself when you woke up this morning?
Tito Ortiz: Actually, I had a few tears in my eyes and I'm very thankful. Positive and thankful. I have an angel on my shoulder. People have to understand, I came from nothing and I achieved such greatness in my life. Last night proved everything. There's an angel on my shoulder, I worked really really hard. I didn't doubt myself for a second. I've gone through a lot of personal stuff, people who follow me on Twitter @TitoOrtiz. I've gone through some serious stuff, you know? Surgically, physically, personally. So many things I've gone through. I've shown everyone that if you have goals in your life, you can achieve those things. Look back on your life and you're gonna go out. These are challenges in my life. Fight career. This is the biggest fight of my life. Anything that matters in your life you can achieve and that's what matters. I'm so so thankful.
Luke Thomas: Before we let you go, what would you call the last five years of your life?
Tito Ortiz: The last five? I don't even think about the last five anymore. I'm thinking about the next fight. It's just one of those things, I'm only 36 man. I just turned 36. I don't want to fight the guys aged like you, I want to fight the top guys and when it's time for me to leave it's time for me to leave.