While former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz is no stranger to making headlines with his often controversial brand of trash-talking, it was something far different that had MMA fans buzzing earlier this week.
A quick snapshot taken of Ortiz during a media day for "The Ultimate Fighter 11" showed the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" sporting a modified coach's jersey that displayed the name of his own clothing line, Punishment Athletics.
As MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) first reported, Ortiz negotiated the clause into his "TUF 11" contract, a move the 35-year-old said was just the latest in a long line of decisions designed to help his fellow athletes.
"I make good decisions, I think," Ortiz said. "Sometimes (I make) bad decisions, and they hurt me a little bit with my fans, but in the long-run, for my family and for the fans that are still true, hardcore fans, I do the right thing - and for the fighters. The fighters don't realize it because they think Tito's just talking [expletive], but I've raised the bar for all of them, big-time.
"People like (Rashad) Evans and 'Rampage' Jackson and Chuck Liddell – these guys are making the millions now because of me holding out. If I didn't hold out, they'd get taken advantage of. They want to be the company guy, which is cool. I'm the company guy now, and I'm very thankful for (UFC co-owners) Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta for being as giving as they were."
A history of tense negotiations
Ortiz first entered tedious negotiations with UFC brass in 2005, and he entered a brief holdout that saw him entertain potential offers from other promotions. Ortiz eventually came back to the UFC and wound up as a coach on the third season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Ortiz believes his willingness to hold-out for better wages during that time led to better financial agreements for many UFC fighters – a fact he feels is often lost on some of his contemporaries.
"I know a lot of guys hate on me," Ortiz said. "Not to say any names – Rich Franklin – or anything like that. That whole team, I think they have a misconception of the 'Bad Boy' image that I have. I do talk [expletive] when it's fight time, but I'm trying to get into the fighter's mind that I'm fighting. I asked for a little bit more (from the UFC) so [other fighters] get a little bit more on their end, so they see the things that I do.
"'Rampage' is a guy who I've helped out a lot. When he came from PRIDE, he got the same contract I did – exactly the same contract as I did. I gave it it to him, and I told him, 'This is what I'm getting, bro. This is what you should be getting.' He did, and he got it. It's just one of those things that I've always tried to help out guys like Matt Hughes, the dirtbag, and guys like that who just hate on me – probably because either they wanted to be like me or they can't achieve as much as I have."
Ortiz held out once again beginning in 2008, and he was rumored to be considering offers from Affliction and EliteXC, among others. And despite a history of harsh words exchanged with UFC president Dana White, Ortiz eventually returned to the UFC.
And of course, Ortiz wound up once again on "The Ultimate Fighter," this time opposite longtime rival Chuck Liddell in the show's 11th season, which is currently in production.
"Everything comes around for a reason," Ortiz said. "I battled for the last 18 months to get my contract. I raised the bar for all of the fighters, and they should be thankful. I got everything I wanted, and I'm on 'The Ultimate Fighter' again, so it seems like everything happens for a reason.
"With my clothing company Punishment Athletics, I negotiated a factor that me and my coaches could wear Punishment. I'm thankful for TapouT agreeing to it, and I'm thankful for Spike TV agreeing to it, and thankful to Dana for making it happen. That was a big build-in for me, to be on 16 weeks of Spike TV wearing Punishment shorts, shirts, beanies, hats. I'm stoked. I get to push my brand a little further. That was kind of what sold it – that and fighting Chuck again."
"I would have been forgotten about"
Ortiz and Liddell, who have fought twice before, have long been less than cordial toward each other, and recent comments from each seem to suggest this season of "The Ultimate Fighter" will be full of further dramatics between the two.
But Ortiz eyes the two fighters' situations as further evidence of why he should be respected by his peers. Faced with banishment from the UFC (reference a lack of any Ortiz win among the UFC's recently issued "Ultimate 100 Greatest Fights" set), Ortiz battled his way back into relevance in the organization.
"I wanted to be successful, and sometimes people get things given to them," Ortiz said. "Sometimes people work hard to make them happen. Chuck has always had things given to him, and I work hard to make it happen. If it wasn't for my hard work and dedication, I would have been forgotten about.
"When you have a billion-dollar company against you, and they're trying to smash you as much as possible – you look over the last six years, and all you see is me getting punched, me getting slammed, me getting thrown, me getting hit, how much I suck. Now, all of a sudden, you look around and see me punching people, kicking people. It's all politics, man. You have to play within the lines."
"They love me, they hate me – as long as they care"
Ortiz is certainly no stranger to the spotlight – or controversy – and his latest stint in the UFC is eerily similar to his previous runs.
But for Ortiz, who hasn't beat someone not named Ken Shamrock since 2006, the effort to remain relevant in a constantly changing sport has been been a carefully crafted plan.
And while Ortiz feels he doesn't always receive the appreciation from his fellow fighters that he rightfully deserves, he knows that as long as the fans are talking, he'll have a job.
"I'm honest," Ortiz said. "I'm respectful, and when it's fight time, yeah, I'm disrespectful with the guys I'm fighting, but it's no more than that. It's not meant to be any more than that, ever.
"I respect my fans, and you see me. I'll sit there, and I'll take every autograph, every picture. I remember back in the day when I would go to Mandalay Bay and put my back to a wall and sit there for five hours and sign until the last person was there. I've always done that, and I'll always do that. It's about the fans. If it wasn't for the fans, you'd just be another fighter. I've understood that. They love me, they hate me – as long as they care.