by Steven Marrocco on Jan 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm ET
Tito Ortiz laughed it off at first. Then he realized they were serious.
Not long after Matt Hamill handed him his third consecutive loss at this past October's UFC 121 event, he got a call from UFC executive Lorenzo Fertitta and UFC president Dana White.
They told him he should retire. After the initial surprise, he pleaded with them.
"I said, 'You guys have got to give me a chance, man,'" Ortiz told MMAjunkie.com (UFC blog for UFC news, UFC rumors, fighter interviews and event previews/recaps | MMAjunkie.com
). "Look at my last fights. I fought Forrest Griffin last year with a ruptured disk in my neck, and I still fought to a split decision. I come back a year later after neck surgery, and I fight a guy who's on a five-fight win streak, and I lost a couple of takedowns.
"You guys think I should retire? It's just crazy."
He eventually convinced them to give him one last shot. White later called him back, and Ortiz (15-8-1 MMA, 14-8-1 UFC) asked for a fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-4 MMA, 2-1 UFC), the twin brother of former PRIDE and UFC champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. "Little Nog" had most recently lost a unanimous decision to blue-chip prospect Ryan Bader.
The two are now set to meet in the headliner of the recently announced UFC Fight Night 24 event, which takes place March 26 at Seattle's KeyArena and airs live on Spike TV.
"I probably could have gotten an easier fight, but I wanted to challenge myself," Ortiz said. "Do I fight someone who I'm supposed to beat, or do I fight someone that's supposed to beat me? I like these terms better."
This past Saturday, White said Ortiz will "probably retire" if he loses to Nogueira.
Once a dominant force in an early era of the Zuffa-owned UFC, Ortiz's back is against the wall. His family life, meanwhile, has never been better. Despite the storm around him, he's happier than ever.
During his title reign in which he defended his belt six consecutive times, he had an entourage of 15 people following him at all times. He had 15 or 16 training partners, all part of his Team Punishment MMA squad. He had that glow that surrounds a champ.
Now, he has four or five training partners. The original team has scattered to the winds. He recently has taken refuge at Kings MMA and works with Fabricio Werdum, Mark Munoz, Jake Ellenberger and former Chute Boxe patriarch Rafael Cordeiro. But he's just another guy on the team.
He has not won a fight since Oct. 10, 2006, when he railroaded Ken Shamrock a third time at "Ortiz vs. Shamrock 3: The Final Chapter," a special Spike TV event.
"If you were to look in my car right now, it's empty," Ortiz said. "There's no one behind me. I literally have four friends, and that's it."
How does that feel? It's part of the business, he shrugs. When you lose, you suck. When you win, you're the greatest. He needs a win; he needs to build himself back up. But there is no reason to retire.
"That doesn't sit well with me at all," he said. "I'm not getting knocked unconscious. I'm not getting submitted. I'm not getting dominated. I'm losing by decision; I'm losing by draws."
So when White hints at his retirement, Ortiz bristles. And regardless of the outcome of the March 26 fight, he said he'll keep going.
"One-hundred percent," Ortiz said. "I'm healthy for once. People don't understand the injuries that I've gone through. I've had some serious, serious surgeries, and I went through some serious pain over the last seven years, and I fought through it. Now that I'm healthy and I feel good, I want to compete. I want to show the best I possibly can and fight the best guys possible."
If you're a longtime MMA fan, you've heard this rap before. The injury stories, the bad circumstances, and bluntly put, the excuses that follow an Ortiz loss. Online, his name prompts a stream of abuse from fans who are tired of hearing him cry wolf.
Meanwhile, he has more than 80,000 followers on his Twitter account. He sells a ton of Team Punishment merchandise on his website. People still line up for autographs.
"I've been in the game for a long time," he said. "For anybody to criticize me and say that I make excuses, well, those are the people that haven't lived my life. Those guys are behind the computer and are the computer tough guys who eat donuts and drink coffee every single day. Those guys can't say [expletive]. Those are the people I don't pay attention to. I pay attention to the people who support me, the people that have my back whether I win, lose, or draw."
But really, a win is everything when it comes to salvaging what's left of a name that people, love him or hate him, care about. Ortiz thinks Nogueira will bring the best out of him, and he'll show people he's still a force to be reckoned with. He says that every time, and he believes it.
His back is to the wall, but he likes it that way.
"It's just a challenge God has given me, and a challenge the UFC and Dana has given me," Ortiz said.