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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tito Ortiz Resigns with UFC ? Tito to fight in December 2009 ?

UFC president Dana White touched on a wide variety of topics in a news conference call on Friday, including the signing of former light heavyweight champion and longtime antagonist Tito Ortiz along with several roster additions from the defunct Affliction promotion.
Ortiz (15-6-1) had what both sides categorized ahead of time as his final UFC fight on May 24, 2008, losing a one-sided decision to Lyoto Machida, the company’s current light heavyweight champion.
After major back surgery, Ortiz, 34, said he was targeting November or December for his return, with White saying Ortiz’s first opponent would be Mark Coleman (16-9), the 44-year-old former Olympic wrestler who was heavyweight champion in 1997, and is coming off an upset win over Stephan Bonnar on July 11.

“Tito and I have a history that everyone knows,” said White. “He’s still a guy that everyone wants to see fight. He said his back has healed perfectly and he’s ready to take a shot at the title. He’s one of those guys that people love and people love to hate. We’ve put all our differences aside, have squashed everything and will move forward, and Tito will retire in the UFC.”
White also changed the main event of UFC 103 on Sept. 19, a show at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, an important date on pay-per-view because it goes head-up with Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s next boxing match, against Juan Manuel Marquez. Rich Franklin (25-4) vs. Vitor Belfort (18-8), as a light heavyweight match, will be the new main event for the Dallas show.
Belfort, 32, a onetime teenage prodigy in the sport, has run off four straight wins since a 2006 loss to Henderson. He has been fighting during that period as a middleweight. Belfort had been training for a match with Jorge Santiago on the Affliction card.
Last week, the company had announced Franklin vs. Dan Henderson, a rematch of a Jan. 17, fight in Dublin, Ireland that Henderson won via decision. The announcement was not well-received, largely because people were expecting Henderson’s next fight to be a middleweight title match against Anderson Silva.
Franklin vs. Belfort is actually a weaker-drawing match in opposition to the Mayweather fight, since Henderson clearly became the biggest star of the three men coming off his vicious knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100. However, the change is a long-term positive, because White said that Henderson would be kept at middleweight and would get the next shot at Silva. Silva is facing Forrest Griffin in a light heavyweight fight on Aug. 8 in Philadelphia. White said that depending on how much damage Silva takes in that fight would determine when Silva vs. Henderson would take place.
“It could be very soon,” said White.
Previously, an Aug. 29 match between Demian Maia and Nate Marquardt had been considered the match to determine Silva’s next contender, and White indicated the winner of that fight would get the following shot after Henderson.
As for Ortiz, his return to the UFC is the latest in a storied history. White originally got involved in MMA as the business manager for both Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. It was through that association in 2000, that he found out UFC was for sale, and convinced high school friend and casino magnate Lorenzo Fertitta to buy the company for $2 million in early 2001.
Ortiz, who had won the vacant UFC middleweight (now light heavyweight) championship on April 14, 2000, in Tokyo, via decision over Wanderlei Silva, was the biggest star in the early years of White’s promotion. His 41-month reign as champion, before losing to Randy Couture on September 26, 2003, in Las Vegas, is still the longest title reign in any weight class in promotion history.
But over the past eight years, the relationship between White and Ortiz was like a roller coaster ride. Problems first became public in 2003, when Ortiz held out, asking for more money, which White blamed on his wanting to avoid facing Liddell in a title defense.
Their first complete split came in 2005, as Ortiz left the company and complained for nearly a year about the UFC pay structure. He was brought back at the end of the year to oppose Ken Shamrock as coaches on the Ultimate Fighter reality show, and to lead to a match.
The Ortiz-Shamrock drama played out in several chapters and led to a record-setting business year in 2006. During that period, White joked, since Ortiz earned a reported $5.8 million that year in four matches, wins over Forrest Griffin, two over Shamrock and a loss to Liddell. “He loves me now.”
But as Ortiz’s star faded after a loss to Liddell and a draw with Rashad Evans, tensions mounted, leading to Ortiz’s departure from the company.”Time really cures everything,” said Ortiz. “Dana was a man of his word. Dana apologized to me. We’re like boyfriend and girlfriend.” Ortiz said he’d been plagued by back problems since 2003, stemming from an injury in training before the Couture fight, and the injury had gotten progressively worse. He said after recent surgery, his back feels the best it has in years.
He’s already got his rap down for his return, noting that before leaving the promotion, he had matches with the three most recent UFC champions.
He won a close decision over Griffin in 2006, although Griffin improved greatly since that point in time. He went to a draw with Rashad Evans in 2007, and he did catch Lyoto Machida in a tight triangle in the third round of their fight last year. Machida escaped and dominated a lackluster fight, but it was the only vulnerable moment Machida has had since joining UFC.
Ortiz said when White and Lorenzo Fertitta came to his home in Huntington Beach to sign him, he said they gave him “an offer you couldn’t refuse.”’
“I’m happy, I’m satisfied,” said Ortiz. “You’ll never hear anything about money again.”
Besides Ortiz and Belfort, White announced the signing of former Affliction fighters, welterweight Paul Daley, lightweights Dan Lauzon and Rafaello Oliveira, and heavyweights Ben Rothwell and Chase Gormley to UFC. The latter two are already scheduled for an Oct. 24 match in Los Angeles. He also announced that Affliction featherweights Javier Vazquez, L.C. Davis and Mark Hominick have been signed and will fight in World Extreme Cagefighting.
He indicated there are eight or nine other fighters from Affliction they are talking with, mentioning Gegard Mousasi (who faces Renato Sobral on Aug. 15 in San Jose for Strikeforce) as a possibility. But White said he has no interest in former UFC heavyweight champions Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, both coming off multiple first-round losses.
In a sense, the announcements were a little disappointment to a media expecting a new U.S. television deal to be reached, with rumors abounding regarding ESPN getting into the game. There was an ESPN announcement, regarding the new U.K. version of ESPN, which launches in two weeks, being the new home of UFC in England and Ireland.
On the television front, White indicated the company had multiple network suitors coming off the success of UFC 100, which is estimated at doing 1.6 million buys on pay-per-view. The show ranks behind only the biggest blockbusters in boxing history, the 2007 Oscar De La Hoya vs. Mayweather fight, the 1997 Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield fight and the 2002 Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis fight, in terms of purchaes. It was also the biggest pay-per-view event of any kind in Canada.
Prior to the event, when UFC understated predictions on what the show was going to do, White said that he would to a back flip off the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas if the show did 1.5 million buys.
“I have to work that out with Mandalay Bay,” he said. “We have to figure it out. I’m a man of my word so I’m jumping. I’m not looking forward to it.”

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