Win or lose, he's always competitive
Tito Ortiz's upset of Ryan Bader was absolutely a shocking one. However, in spite of the constant discussion about Ortiz not having won a fight in nearly five years, Ortiz hasn't entirely been a lame duck the last few years.
He lost to Chuck Liddell in the last great "Iceman" performance. He controlled Rashad Evans for most of their bout and would have won if not for a point deduction. He nearly triangle choked Lyoto Machida late in their encounter. He lost a decision to Forrest Griffin in a bout in which, though I thought he was thoroughly whooped, many still saw Ortiz as not only a competitor but the victor in the fight. He then lost to a respectable foe in Matt Hamill.
That kind of competition is nothing to sneeze at. Four of those opponents are former UFC light heavyweight champions. Individually, no one would ever impeach the credibility and relevance of a fighter based on any of them. However, because they're compounded over a series of years, and Tito Ortiz has made himself a clownish figure, it creates the illusion he's a washed-up has-been fleetingly clinging to relevance.
Ortiz has made it easy by having a high-profile relationship with one of the most famous adult film stars of our generation and turning postfight interviews into comedy routines about cracked skulls that somehow flew under the radar of medical inspections. He turned in some of the worst color commentary in history for Affliction. However, regardless of how poorly a light he has cast on himself outside the cage, Ortiz is still more well-rounded than he gets credit for and has managed to compete against the 205-pound division's best while battling a legitimate slate of injuries over the last five years.
If Ortiz was facing simply above-average opposition in the last five years, is it not fair to righteously assume he would have more victories? When we see the recent Octagon success of a former Ortiz victim, such as a Vladimir Matyushenko, do people really think Ortiz has fallen so far that he couldn't compete at that level?
Not unlike the over-reactionary way in which we thought Machida would never lose and Jon Jones will never lose, Ortiz's losing streak extended back into our collective long-term memory, and so it seemed terminal. Imagining him winning fights seemed hard. However, in this way, Ortiz is a victim of the celebrity he has worked so hard to cultivate.
One of the reasons Ortiz was expected to bow out if he lost to Bader was that it would signal he could no longer offer anything to elite competition. Another fighter would simply fight further down the card, in a gatekeeping role, against lesser opposition. However, Ortiz was one of MMA's first superstars, and so the idea of him fighting on a Facebook preliminary seems incongruous. Essentially, Tito's celebrity forces him to take on a constant schedule of elite fighters, which creates a distorted picture of how effective of a fighter he is.
One win -- over Bader? Come on
In MMA, there's nothing more persuasive than whatever the thing was that last happened. As for context and cumulative history and that really overrated bigger picture? Dude, only haters dredge that stuff up.
That's what's going on with Tito Ortiz and people lumping him into light heavyweight contention talk after his first win in nearly five years.
Just to emphasize the point ...
That's one victory in the last 1,725 days.
Wait, 2008 was a leap year -- that makes 1,726 days.
Georges St. Pierre has won 10 times in that stretch and Anderson Silva a dozen. Even Eric "Red" Schafer has won four fights since 2006, which by those standards makes him a sort of MMA messiah. (I mention it only to demonstrate I'm grading on a curve).
In other words, if Ortiz is elite after a single victory in that time, Haley's is a prolific comet for eyes and earth.
Was it a nice win over Ryan Bader? Was it an unexpected win? Was it a career-saving performance that will likely get him back into some six-figure paydays? Yes, yes and very likely yes. It's also great that he persevered through injuries and setbacks to arrive at this moment. But the flipside of the coin is that we might have been actually overrating the "Ultimate Fighter 7" winner, Bader, whose most significant wins against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Keith Jardine and (ahem) Schafer begin to look like the old smoke and mirrors. Bader is a solid fighter and a stud wrestler, but to call him elite -- which he'd have to be if we are calling Ortiz elite for beating him -- is a bit of a stretch. The only thing that beating Bader did for the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was reintroduce him to a long, lost term that every fighter wants to be acquainted with -- that is, relevancy. That's it. And being relevant is not the same as elite.
Truthfully, the 36-year-old Ortiz should be completely happy with that. He went in as a 7-to-1 underdog, blindfolded and on a plank, with the UFC's boss Dana White saying words such as "do or die" to anybody who'd listen -- and Ortiz came through. With a history of questionable behavior and inflated drama, you don't usually cast Ortiz as a protagonist in a heartwarming story. But for one night he did something remarkable -- he not only came through in his bout and preserved his livelihood as a fighter, he made us happy for him while jacking with our common sense. Maybe it was a chord of nostalgia for the pre-2007 Tito, the one who defended all those belts. But that Tito and this aren't as close as romantic fans are so quick to believe.
'GROSS POINT BLANK'
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