Original face of UFC back in a big way
LAS VEGAS -- One thousand, seven hundred and sixteen days.
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But the former UFC light heavyweight champion, and really, the face of the organization, hadn't stopped raising his hands in the gym. After every sparring session, Ortiz would raise his arm triumphantly, basically willing it to happen again.
"It's been a long time," Ortiz said. "I dreamed about this. The whole match, I played it over and over in my head. So, when it happened, it was just second sense.
"When they raised my hand and said Tito Ortiz, winner -- in every training session I raised my hands because I knew in my mind positive reinforcement would help me win."
This is the Ortiz (16-8-1) the new generation of UFC fans had heard about and even seen on DVD or VHS, but never had a chance to watch live.
Prior to UFC 132, it appeared Ortiz was on his way out -- if not the sport, at least the sport's premier promotion. UFC president Dana White made it very clear during the buildup Ortiz wouldn't have a job come Sunday if he didn't secure a win.
"Tonight was a night to win," White said. "Tito needed a win to stay in the UFC."
So, as Ortiz made his customary entrance into the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, many couldn't help but think it was to be the final time.
Instead, Ortiz turned the tables on the younger, more athletic Bader (12-2), who had said he planned to use the legend as a "stepping-stone" to a rematch with UFC champion Jon Jones.
"I'm a UFC fighter. I've been here for 14 years," Ortiz said. "I made a stepping-stone of Ryan Bader. He said he was going to step on me, but you ain't stepping on this champion."
Being a big fight weekend in the perceived fight capital of the world, plenty of familiar faces in the mixed martial arts world were in Las Vegas for the event. Here's what some of them said immediately following Ortiz's upset win:
Brandon Vera, UFC light heavyweight: "I'm super stoked for Tito. Felt bad for Ryan Bader. Someone has to win and someone has to lose. Tito has paid his dues. He's put up with a lot of bulls---. I wasn't shocked. I actually put money on Tito. So, thank you Tito!"
Michael Bisping, UFC middleweight: "I didn't see the fight. I missed it. Fantastic though. Good for him. Tito always has a chance in every fight. I'm not surprised he won by submission."
Diego Sanchez, UFC welterweight: "I bet $100 on him. I'm not a big time gambler but I saw him when I walked in. We talked. He had that focus and I knew if he was going to lose that fight it was either he was on his way out the door or he was out the door. So, I knew he was going to win it."
Phil Davis, UFC light heavyweight: "He needed it. It was awesome. I loved it. I like Bader, never good to see him lose. Solid win for Tito."
Mike Pyle, UFC welterweight: "I gave him a chance because of his size. He's bigger and stronger and has more experience. We'll see what he's got left when he steps up against [better] competition."
Jay Hieron, Bellator welterweight: "I always root for the older guy, you know what I mean? The underdog. Good for him. You train hard and good things happen. People are always saying you're washed up and your career is over, for him to go out and prove those people wrong -- God bless him."
Mark Munoz, UFC middleweight: "Dude, I stood up and started screaming. I've been pulling for Tito for a long time. When his back is against the wall he fights his best. He's a born fighter. He's the one who held the UFC on his shoulders for a long time. He deserves it."
Mark Hominick, UFC featherweight: "He's obviously a legend in the sport. It's nice to see him get back on track. He's been through a lot, both with the fans and his performances. He spoke very loud with his performance tonight. He was a 4-to-1 underdog, which is what I would have put him as."
Bruce Buffer, UFC announcer: "I thought it was great to see him win. Tito won fair and square. Hit him hard and submitted him, he won like a true UFC warrior and that's what Tito needed."
Shawn Tompkins, MMA trainer: "It's awesome, man. Tito is a big reason a lot of us got in the sport. He came out aggressive and didn't question himself. Tito moments for me will always be of back in the day, but I'm real happy for him."
Miesha Tate, Strikeforce welterweight: "I thought it was awesome. It was really good to see him make not necessarily a comeback, but [prove] he's still in the game."
Chad Mendes, UFC featherweight: "It was definitely a surprise. Bader is my boy. But for me, it was great because I didn't want to see Tito out of here. For him to win that fight and stay in the UFC is awesome. I jumped out of my seat I was so surprised."
Anthony Pettis, UFC lightweight: "It was awesome. It was like old days, being back at home in high school watching the UFC for the first time. I didn't count him out. I think Tito on any given day is dangerous, it just depends on which Tito shows up. He doesn't want to lose his job and he did what he had to do."
Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.
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