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5 Oz. Feature: Do the UFC and Tito Ortiz really need each other?

646_ubzscnomuc_vlarge.jpgThere’s an existing sentiment that the UFC and Tito Ortiz will both be making a mistake if they decide to part ways. It’s a sentiment that our very own Adam Morgan agrees with. It’s sentiment that many other pundits on the Internet agree with. It was also a sentiment that I once agreed with as well.

But no longer.

That’s right, I no longer support the idea that the UFC and Tito need each other. In fact, I think both principals will be better off without each other. It’s been a bad marriage for quite some time and everyone will be much happier with a divorce.

I can’t speak for other countries, but in the U.S., divorce is usually seen as a negative. And when children are involved, it truly is. But if both parties are unhappy with one another, why continue to perpetuate a mistake?

When a couple splits, it can be upsetting. But in many instances, both parties actually become much happier. Or at the very least, they move on and survive just fine without one another. Look at the Jennifer Aniston/Brad Pitt divorce. It’s not like either one has had to spend a lonely night since their marriage collapsed. Pitt is doing just fine with Angelina Jolie and Aniston is still making movies and is having no trouble finding a date.

After Tito Ortiz makes his final UFC appearance on May 24 at UFC 84, the UFC will continue to make hundreds of millions of dollars and Ortiz will continue to get paid millions to fight.

Not only will both survive, they’ll be better off with each other.

In the case of the UFC, it’s tough for a promotion to have to shell out a high six-figure guarantee to a fighter who no longer is a viable title contender. It’s definitely possible to draw and not be in title fights, but UFC president Dana White has gone out of his way to try and devalue Ortiz as a marketable fighter. Pay-per-view draws do not grow on trees and White erred by allowing his personal animosity for Ortiz to effect the UFC’s bottom line. After you factor in guarantees, Ortiz is believed to be making over a million dollars per fight. What’s the point in shelling out that kind of money for a fighter you promote with great reluctance?

Ortiz is no longer a focal point of the UFC’s marketing plan and likely never will be again. Yet he’s making the same as he was before and there’s no way he’ll accept a pay cut in order to perform in a less prominent role. He only makes sense at his current pay scale if the masses perceive him to be a threat to recapture the UFC light heavyweight title. However, if he can’t even get past an up and comer like Rashad Evans, it’s going to be hard to buy into him as someone who can bring Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s reign to an end.

What the UFC will lose out on is the millions of dollars it could have made by promoting an Jackson vs. Ortiz match or a rematch between Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva. However, it’s hard to put Ortiz back into title contendership if he hasn’t beaten a top contender. If he could beat someone like Lyoto Machida, a match between Ortiz and the winner of July’s title fight between Jackson and Forrest Griffin could draw a pretty strong buyrate. But there aren’t many people who believe Ortiz is going to be able to walk away with a “W” against Machida. You could try and set the bar lower for Ortiz as far as a fight to build him back up, but that’s a lot of money to pay someone to take on an opponent that isn’t a draw, such as a James Irvin. Not to mention, if you look at the current strength within the UFC’s light heavyweight division, there really aren’t any tomato cans. Ortiz would be favored over Irvin, but would you bet your house that Ortiz would win?

Ortiz vs. Silva is a matchup of two iconic light heavyweight fighters, but what’s the point in building up that fight if Ortiz isn’t signed to a long-term contract? The UFC has committed a lot of money to Silva but he already has lost once since returning to the UFC at UFC 79 in December. The promotion can’t afford to have him drop to 0-2 against an opponent who is in his walk match.

In recent years, the biggest feud for Ortiz that the UFC has promoted has been his personal war with White. The problem is, this isn’t pro wrestling and Zuffa has spent a lot of time and money building up a feud that will never have a real payoff.

If the UFC as a company no longer believes in Ortiz, why continue to do business with him?

For Ortiz, he’s done a magnificent job of marketing himself. He’s become a brand within a brand and has managed to stay somewhat relevant even though White has tried gone out of his way to kill his career. Ortiz is wise in that he hasn’t allowed himself to become dependent on the UFC’s marketing machine in order to stay in the public eye. He’s constantly booking his own interviews and his team has the ability to get him high-profile television appearances on network programs such as “The Apprentice” without any assistance from Zuffa.

He remains a draw but is no longer the drawing card he once was. While White is partially to blame, a lot of the blame must also be placed on Ortiz. His fighting style has become stagnant. His ground and pound style is dated in that he rarely sets up his shots. He was once a takedown master but his shot range has deteriorated, allowing his opponents to better defend against his shot. While Ortiz’s standup has gotten better in recent years, he’s still not a knockout threat and his jiu-jitsu ability is nothing special. As a fighter, Ortiz has evolved very little in recent years which is a problem when you’re an athlete in a sport in which the state of the art seemingly changes every six months.

Ortiz possibly can hang with the Machidas, Jacksons, Griffins, Keith Jardines, Chuck Liddells, and Shogun Ruas of MMA, but can he beat them? I’m not so sure and I don’t think I am alone in that regard. He needs to be able to pick and choose his spots more wisely and he’ll never have that freedom so long as he’s in the UFC.

Let’s face facts, Otiz isn’t getting any younger and injuries have affected his performance. He may not have a lot of matches left and as such, he needs to follow in the footsteps of Frank Shamrock and only accept fights against opponents that he can draw against. In order to be able to promote himself in such a manner, he needs more creative control over his career. He’s not going to get that control from the UFC.

There’s also the issue of money. Ortiz wants a raise and the UFC has said no. You’re only worth what someone is willing to pay you, but in the case of Ortiz, the grass truly could be greener as there is good reason to believe that he could command more on the open market that the UFC is willing to pay. Affliction is rumored to be throwing away major money for its fighters and you have to think that a fighter such as Ortiz would be perfect for their business model. Both Ortiz and Affliction are UFC outcasts and an alliance between the two seems like a natural.

EliteXC is also another potential destination. They have a network deal with CBS and they eventually want to be a player on pay-per-view. A fighter such as Ortiz can help them in multiple ways. Whether they currently have the money needed to land someone like Ortiz remains to be seen, but if they can leverage their relationship with CBS to bring in additional capital, a shopping spree might not be out of the question.

Japan could also be an option. DREAM is paying top dollar for U.S.-based fighters such as Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Eddie Alvarez, and Nick Diaz. With no disrespect intended to the three aforementioned fighters, Ortiz brings a lot more starpower to the table.

What I foresee happening is Ortiz following the path of Renato “Babalu” Sobral in that he signs non-exclusive contracts with multiple promotions. By subscribing to such a philosophy, he will have total control over his career and will be in a position where he can logistically fight any fighter not under contract to Zuffa. Big-time money matchups against the likes of Shamrock, Kimbo Slice, and Fedor Emelianenko could all be on the table.

The only reason for the UFC to retain Ortiz is to keep him away from the competition. But after watching many promotions overspend themselves into bankruptcy, Zuffa could perceive Ortiz to be a red herring that brings a promotion to its knees. The only reason for Ortiz to stay with the UFC…. well, I can’t think of any.

It’s clear to me now that the UFC and Tito Ortiz don’t need each other. They just need to move on.