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Q&A: MMA legend Tito Ortiz gone, but not forgotten

Posted by Levine Communications Office on March 19, 2013

By: Brantley Watson

tito-ortiz

Tito Ortiz had a plan. He would wrestle in the Olympics or he would become a schoolteacher.

If you ask Ortiz, he didn’t come close to either. He simply surpassed both.

Ortiz is arguably the most famous mixed martial artist in the history of the sport. He was a pioneer for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, headlining a majority of the company’s inaugural major events and representing one of only nine members in the UFC Hall of Fame.

Now Ortiz, 38, has stepped away from the ring for good. He has a clothing line, he manages fighters and he’s a father. He owns and helps operate Punishment Training Center in Huntington Beach.

The same spark and bravado that made Ortiz a star, whether you hate or love him, keep him relevant in the world of MMA.

Ortiz checked in with the Register to talk about what it was like growing up in Huntington Beach, why he’s the most famous MMA fighter in the world and when he knew it was time to hang up the gloves.

Q: You grew up in Huntington Beach, wrestling at Huntington Beach High and at Golden West College. What influence has growing up and competing in Huntington Beach had on your career?

A: I think it had a great influence on me. From age 6 to 13, I lived in Santa Ana. One of my friends got shot and killed, and when my mom saw that, she left my father, got remarried and moved to Huntington Beach.

When we got here, I was still kind of hanging out with the wrong people, but the police were cracking down more on the gangs here and got rid of them really quick. Then, I found wrestling.

Wrestling saved my life. I was a big fan of the (World Wrestling Federation), so I walked into the gym at Huntington Beach High looking for the ring, and I realized they were two different sports (laughs). My real name is Jacob, and in the Bible, Jacob wrestled against an angel and the angel beat him. The angel saved his life. What a coincidence.

If it wasn’t for the wrestling program, I wouldn’t be where I am. It gave me the thought process that I have to do well in school to compete in wrestling and that’s what kept me focused and taught me discipline and dedication.

Q: How’d you get into MMA and the UFC?

A: I took a year off after wrestling in high school because I kind of just lost my way. I was headed down a bad road, hanging with the wrong people and doing the wrong things. So my high school wrestling coach, Paul Herrera, saw me at a club one night and asked what I was doing with myself. I told him I was trying to make ends meet.

He asked was I OK, and I didn’t really understand what he meant. He asked if I wanted to come back to wrestling and try to get financial aid at Golden West College. I went home that Saturday night, looked in the mirror, and I didn’t recognize myself at all. I was 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and doing meth. I realized I was turning into my parents, and it scared me.

So Monday, I told my job I couldn’t come in, and they said if I didn’t come in, I was fired. So I quit, and that was a huge chance. I walked into my coach’s office that day, and he couldn’t believe I showed up. So that year, Paul Herrera was coaching a guy named Tank Abbott that fought in the UFC. He needed someone to wrestle with Tank and help him get ready for a fight.

Then I met a guy that I beat in the state wrestling tournament, Jerry Bohlander, and he was fighting in the UFC. I told Tank that I wanted to give the UFC a try. So Tank helped me get a fight, but my school said if I did, I couldn’t get any prize money because I was an amateur wrestler and I wasn’t professional. The UFC was going to give me around $20,000, and I waived it. I fought for free on May 30, 1997, for the first time.

Q: How’d you get the nickname, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy?”

A: I was brash. I was a young kid that spoke his mind. It just goes back to me living on the streets and not holding anything back. I attacked the guys who I fought.

I watched Muhammad Ali talk trash in boxing, and I figured I could do the same thing in MMA. I wanted to manipulate someone’s mind so they’re not thinking about the fight, they’re thinking about how bad they want to kill me. It was psychological warfare. I would say a lot of rash things about my opponent.

Find the rest of the interview in The OC Register

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