Sitting on the dais at the UFC 140 media conference, Tito Ortiz looks every bit The Huntington Beach Bad Boy.
He sits ramrod straight, stares straight ahead and refuses to remove his sunglasses, even though it’s pretty dark inside the fancy-schmancy TIFF Bell Lightbox. It’s an intimidating look.
And when a well-known UFC reporter asks him a question, Ortiz verbally slams the dude, informing him that he’s not liked. Only after UFC president Dana White intervenes does he answer.
But here’s the thing. It turns out, Ortiz, one of the early pioneers in professional big-time mixed martial arts and a long-time ‘villain’ in the sport, insists that he is no longer the “Bad Boy”.
As his career winds down — and his bout with Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 140 on Saturday night at the ACC represents the 26th of his UFC career — Ortiz insists that he’s turned over a new leaf. He says he’s a nice guy now and wants to be remembered as such. To that end, he’s adopted a new nickname. He’s now known as The People’s Champ.
“I’m just keeping it positive, man,” Ortiz tells a journalist he does like. “I want to be an inspiration in people’s life.”
Ortiz, 36, says the transformation from bad guy to good guy occurred after his upset victory on July 2 over Ryan Badar at UFC 132. After years of feuding with White and some others in the sport, including long-time nemesis Chuck Liddell, and fighting back from major injuries and a few devastating losses, Ortiz decided to change his persona and, at the same time, his outlook on life.
“(Before the Badar fight), there was a lot of pressure on my back,” said Ortiz, 15-9-1 in the UFC. “And Dana said, ‘Me win, or me leave.’ (But) I wasn’t going anywhere.
“Coming off the surgeries I did, all the pressure against me, I just kind of said, ‘You know what, enough’s enough.’ I’ve got to push all the negative people away from me — people on Twitter, people that email me, everything. I just stopped it, kept it out of my life,” he said.
“They say ‘out of sight out of mind’. (I started) to think positive, and my life just got better and better and better. I woke up every morning with a smile on my face. I’m not getting any younger, I got three boys and I think my three boys as they get older, they’ll love to know their dad as the People’s Champ, instead of the bad boy.”
White concurs that Ortiz is walking the walk, that the nice guy image is not just some flavour of the month.
“Tito has changed and he does carry himself in a different way now,” said White, who had threatened to dump Ortiz from the UFC in the past. “Tito and I get along a lot better than we used to. We’re cool now.”
White says he’s all for Ortiz embracing a new positive outlook, but admits he wasn’t thrilled with the new nickname.
“I wasn’t crazy about the name change to The People’s Champ from Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” said White.
“It took me four hours to convince him,” Ortiz interjected.
“I don’t know,” continued White. “He’s been the Huntington Beach Bad Boy since he started and that’s who Tito is, that’s who he was. He called me and said, ‘I want to change my name to the People’s Champ.’ And I said, ‘What does that mean?’ We talked for a couple of minutes ... and you know, he’s The People’s Champ.”
So that’s that. As Ortiz fades into the sunset, he wants everyone to remember him as a kinder, gentler knockout machine, though he’s quick to point out that, in the ring, he’s still a mean mother and vows to defeat Nogueira on Saturday.
“When it’s fight time, I’ve got my poker face on man,” he said. “I’m a bad boy still in the cage when it’s fight time.”
Outside of the octagon, despite his troubles with his better half, former porn star Jenna Jameson, last year, Ortiz says he is loving life more than ever.
“If you fill yourself with hate, if you fill yourself with negativity, life becomes miserable,” he said. “Why make your life so miserable? You push all that stuff away. God gives you challenges. I’m not a guy who sits and (talks) about God and Jesus and this and that, but I believe that good things happen to good people when you do good things.”
Good things outside of the octagon.