When UFC 148 ends this weekend with the conclusion of Sonnen/Silva 2, one thing will definitely be known for sure: Tito Ortiz is going to have finished up his fighting career. Ortiz, who announced his retirement after a rubber match with Forrest Griffin, will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame this weekend and end his career against the man with whom he had his toughest rivalry. It won’t be his highest profile one, as Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz was one of the UFC’s first prominent rivalries, nor will it have any sort of long-standing effect on the UFC’s prominence like his rivalry with Ken Shamrock did. And when all is said and done Tito will have made one of the largest contributions to UFC and MMA. In fact he made six significant contributions to MMA that will define his ultimate legacy outside of wins and losses.
Most wins by a champion – Tito Ortiz set the bar for being a dominant champion that has since been eviscerated. When we discuss championship dominance the standard is always going to be Anderson Silva. Before his run, though, it was Tito Ortiz who defined the kind of run a dominant champion would have. Even Jon Jones has a couple more wins before matching Tito and right now Jones is on a run Tito couldn’t have matched in terms of contender quality but he’s technically not the most dominant light heavyweight champion of all time until he matches Tito. He will in short order, most likely, but it’s still the mark to beat. It’s kind of like being the guy who held the home run record in baseball before Babe Ruth; it’s still a mark to be passed.
Cardio as a weapon – The one thing he learned from Frank Shamrock is that in MMA physicality is a weapon. And he turned that lesson into an imparting generation of fighters who emulated his methods of being in outstanding physical condition. Part of how MMA is changed is that the pace and conditioning is much more demanding than it used to be. Tito’s ability to outlast and wear down opponents was novel for the time but now has expanded. Guys are in much better shape now and the ability to use cardio as a weapon is fairly commonplace. Look at how Michael Bisping embraced what he learned from Tito in terms of his ability to use cardio: Bisping’s gas tank is now legendary from the lessons he took from Tito in that season.
Weight cutting – We kind of take it for granted now with plenty of guys making substantial weight cuts to get an edge for a class; one of Tito’s first early advantages in terms of his physical abilities was refining weight cutting down to a science. Tito was a gifted athlete but not a superb one; he made up for it by being able to weigh in 25 pounds lighter than he walked around at. The art of the weight cut is now ingrained into every fighter’s camp and it started in part because Tito did it so effectively. Look at how he used it against Shamrock the first time; Shamrock walked around at about 205 where as Tito cut the weight, put it back on and able to bully the UFC 1 competitor around based on size alone. That was the big thing that Shamrock pointed out the second time around for everyone to hear and now we have an entire generation of fighters cutting similar amounts before a fight.
Ground and pound – Mark Coleman may be the grandfather of ground and pound but Tito took those basic attacks of Coleman and made it into an art form. When fighters learn ground and pound now as an attack they’re taking lessons from Ortiz that is the next step. Ortiz teaches Ground & Pound 201 after Coleman’s instructional course Ground & Pound 100. Tito’s ability to take the fight to the ground and attack from the ground is now much more refined than it ever was by others over the years but he was the first to truly develop the tactic into more than just brute force that Coleman, Mark Kerr and others used. He just wasn’t throwing like a caveman; the way he used his hips to give elbows and punches more power is standard now.
UFC’s first superstar of the modern era – Brock Lesnar may have had a short stint in the UFC but he was the UFC’s biggest star to date. Bigger than GSP, even. But he came along in an era where MMA was on the rise. Tito was the first real star in the modern era of MMA, the guy who carried the torch during the dark years. Many fighters are bigger stars than Tito ever was but in the Zuffa era of the UFC the first major one was Tito.
Best Coach of TUF – Rich Franklin, Liddell, Couture and Matt Hughes had it really tough as the first four coaches of “The Ultimate Fighter.” They had no idea what to expect and a format that tried to emulate the crappy competition type shows that were just starting to get popular. Given that the show’s ultimate format was decided for Ortiz/Shamrock on season 3, and hasn’t really changed since, Ortiz’s quality coaching of his team has become the standard by which we look at TUF coaches. It was a character rehabbing series for Ortiz, who went from being someone many fans openly disliked to someone they could like because he was genuinely vested in making his team the best fighters they could be.
Win or lose, Tito Ortiz changed the game. When he walks out of the cage for a final time we’ll have seen one of the all-time greats hang it up.
Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, Tito Ortiz, UFC 148