I turned 36 years old in January, and training is a little harder than it used to be. I’ve been doing this for more than 14 years now, and almost from my very first fight, I’ve been doing this at the elite level. Check my record ... you won’t find any "gimmie" opponents anywhere on it, from my 1997 debut all the way up to my July 2 fight with top-5 contender Ryan Bader at UFC 132 in Las Vegas. I’ve fought the best of two or three eras: Guy Mezger, Evan Tanner, Wanderlei Silva, Ken Shamrock, Vladimir Matyushenko, Vitor Belfort -- all the way through Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, to the guys who are at the very top right now like Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin. I’ve been at the very top and I stayed at the top for a lot longer than anyone before or since.
I lost my UFC 205-pound belt in 2003; I last won a fight in 2006. These are facts. You can look them up; they are there in black and white. So you’ll see a lot of talk on the Internet and lots of articles that I am shot. Finished. That “Tito Ortiz is done."
Yeah, it sucks that I’ve not had my hand raised since 2006. I hate it. I can’t tell you how much I hate it and how bad it sucks. I’m used to winning. I'm used to dominating, walking through guys and feeling indestructible like I did when I was champion. To go this long without a win, when you are a winner who fought for everything he has in life -- it’s horrible.
But people need to look at the big details to know what’s been happening in these fights. I’ll never be someone who accepts second place -- never -- but, honestly, I feel I have won some of these fights.
The record according to Tito
After Chuck Liddell beat me in December 2006, I took on Rashad Evans, who went on to be a world champion and has lost only once since. And I beat him. It was only a "draw" because I got a point taken off for the one, single time when I grabbed the fence. It was a draw, but I was the better fighter in the cage. I won.
Then I fought Lyoto Machida, a great fighter who also went on to win the world title. I almost caught him in a triangle and tapped him out. He admitted he thought he was going to pass out. I lost and it sucked, but I was competitive.
Next was a rematch with Forrest Griffin, whom I beat earlier in our careers. I didn’t get the decision this time, but a lot of people felt I won two rounds to one. Again, I was more than competitive with a top-5 guy.
My last fight, against Matt Hamill in October, I lost. It was totally my bad; I didn’t prepare for his takedowns because I didn’t think he’d be able to take me down. Real dumb, my bad, and I am still pissed at myself.
But, again, I am not getting dominated. I’m not getting knocked out like Liddell was late in his career. I am still competitive with the very best guys in the division and haven’t taken a step down in competition since the day I lost my belt in 2003.
Those guys writing me off need to look at the big details of these performances …
I'm not going anywhere
So I was shocked that people called for me to retire. I know they thought it was best for me, but I couldn’t believe it.
I’m honest with myself, and when it is time, I will go. At 36, that day when I will walk away is coming. It’s coming soon; I know that and I’ve come to accept that. But it is not yet. I know I could have all kinds of wins if I was fighting different types of opponents, but I am fighting the best opposition in the division.
I know [UFC president] Dana White and [Zuffa CEO] Lorenzo Fertitta felt the same way, and I’m thankful to them for the opportunities I’ve had in my career and I appreciate their concern. But I told them everything I just told you guys -- pointing out I’d been losing split decisions and getting draws with the very best guys in their light heavyweight division, the division that has the most talent in the UFC.
I think Dana respected that I had the fire to say, “Hell no, I don’t want to retire! I want to fight!” and argued that I should fight on. So they're giving me this shot against Ryan Bader, another top-5 guy who has only ever lost to [current UFC light heavyweight champion] Jon Jones.
Would I have liked Dana to give me an easier opponent? Sure! But, hey, they pay me top-attraction money, so I get top-attraction guys ...
Last of the dying breed
I’m the Last of the Mohicans. Out of the fighters who helped build the UFC from what it was in the 1990s to what it is now in 2011, they’re all gone except for me. Chuck Liddell has retired; Randy Couture has retired. I’m the last man standing, and now everyone thinks Ryan Bader is going to put me down, too.
I’ve been stopped due to punches, but I’ve not been knocked cold. But Bader has heavy, heavy hands ...
I don’t want to go. I’m not going to go. I am going to push the pace and win this fight July 2. My back is right against wall. I’m coming out swinging.
Ortiz meets Bader at UFC 132 on July 2 in Las Vegas. Follow him on Twitter @titoortiz and at www.punishment.com.