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Monday, October 24, 2011
An about-face for Tito Ortiz, our champion

By Chuck Mindenhall

Tito Ortiz
Even as a villain, Tito Ortiz had his fans. So what's with the nickname change?
After years of walking around under the menacing handle “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” Tito Ortiz has re-fashioned himself as “The People’s Champ.” At UFC 140 in Toronto, Bruce Buffer will call out “Tito ‘The People’s Champ’ Ortiz.” This is what’s known as a juxtaposition.

Not all that long ago, Ortiz proclaimed deaf people had notoriously soft heads. Today, Ortiz rides on our shoulders.

And as with all the people’s champs, the people are the last to know. Chael Sonnen is another of "our champions." Neither of them are actual champions. But it’s a healthy delusion, and, in Ortiz’s case anyway, what’s wrong with a little reinvention? Becoming the opposite of what everyone knows of you makes for blown minds and timely storylines, no matter how far-fetched. Hulk Hogan went to the dark side late in his career; Ortiz steps into the light.

What’s not to admire?

Besides, this new “reimagining” might be more apt. In the last five years, what Ortiz hasn’t gained in victories -- remember that time? -- he’s picked up in maturity (presumably). It wasn’t he who Tweeted that picture of his noose; it was a common coffeehouse hacker.
Tito Ortiz
Cam-pain trail: Tito Ortiz is out to reinvent himself from the ground up.

When Ortiz did return to his winning ways and beat Ryan Bader at UFC 132, the place went into ballistics. Every hater clapped for him, even Chuck Liddell, who showed his affection for Ortiz on the cover of UFC Magazine by sporting a choice t-shirt where a relieved bladder also factored in. For a moment, Ortiz became a live piece of nostalgia for those who remember the halcyon days in the early-2000s, back when he was defending the UFC’s light heavyweight strap again and again.

Right around the time he was doing his grave-digger routine over Bader’s prone body, right when people were smacking their foreheads with goose flesh on their arms, precisely at that moment ... that was when he became our champion.

Next thing you know he accepted a short-notice fight against Rashad Evans -- after first refusing and a quick change of heart -- and declared, “anything for the UFC.” This sent Dana White into raptures. “I like the new Tito,” White said. He rephrased this many times. And since then it’s perpetuated.

Ortiz showed nothing but respect for Evans, even after the loss. Ahead of his bout with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, he isn’t throwing down any verbal judo. On Twitter, he’s inviting people to play against him on Call of Duty: Black Ops, and welcomes your trash talk as something “fun.” His running refrain has become “just believe.”

Not exactly the iconoclastic figure with the nimble middle fingers, now is it?

But hey, when every bout could be your last, and you’re still a popular fighter that can get by with about anything, why not? This is one title he doesn’t necessarily have to defend, because, whether we like it or not, we are his people. Even if this comes as news to us.