Chael Sonnen might have beaten Tito Ortiz in a college wrestling match nearly 20 years ago, but he doesn’t expect that long ago result to have any bearing on their fight at Bellator 170.
“Tito’s a great fighter. He fights different than he wrestles. He was a hell of a wrestler. I caught him in one position. I’m not gonna hang my hat on that, and I don’t believe that position’s gonna happen again,” Sonnen said. “I’m a huge fan. I’m pumped to be in there with a Hall of Famer like Tito. I’m gonna do everything I can to beat him , but I don’t dismiss how good this guy is.”
Sonnen, who wrestled for the University of Oregon, moved from 177 pounds to 190 pounds to face Ortiz, who competed for Cal State Bakersfield. “The Gangster from West Linn” pinned Ortiz in 44 seconds in their Jan. 23, 1998 match, a date which also happened to be Ortiz’s birthday.
At that point, Ortiz had already begun his Ultimate Fighting Championship career. Sonnen, meanwhile, was of aware of his opponent’s exploits and continued to follow Ortiz as he rose to prominence in the Octagon. The former UFC middleweight challenger was admittedly envious of Ortiz.
“I wanted to be an MMA fighter when I was in college. It was a totally different landscape. People weren’t watching. They didn’t know what it was. To find it on TV was tough, but it survived on the internet. I knew exactly what it was. When Tito and I wrestled he’d already been in the UFC, fought in the tournament,” Sonnen said. “I was a big Tito fan. He had the blond hair, he had the tattoos on the back of his arm. I trained some with Tank Abbott, so I knew all about Tito. I cheered for him and rooted for him in every one of his fights. All of him except this one. That is true.”
“He got out of college before I did. He went on and got his opportunities, and I would always watch him and I was always jealous of him. I still think he’s had a remarkable career and a run. The sport as a whole stayed alive because of Tito Ortiz and his charisma, some of the stuff he did on top of his fighting ability. That’s a true statement. I wanted what he had.”
Sonnen’s UFC debut would not come until 2005, and he regrets not having the opportunity to test himself against a prime “Huntington Beach Bad Boy.” While both men are older now, Sonnen believes his bout with Ortiz on Jan. 21 in Los Angeles will give him a chance to prove who was always the better fighter.
“One of us is better, but it’s been my contention from Day 1 that that’s me. My contention from Day 1 is that I could’ve beat him and all the guys that he beat he never would’ve been champion if I’d been around,” Sonnen said. “ I’ve been telling my fans and coaches this since the 90s. Now it’s time to walk out and prove it. I’m either gonna prove that I’m the best fighter in the world long before I was given my opportunity or I wasn’t. That’s what this match means to me.”
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