With victories against opponents like Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, and Forrest Griffin, Tito Ortiz is recognized as one of the iconic veterans in UFC history. At UFC 25, he defeated Silva to win the light heavyweight championship. He then went on to defend the title five times.
Even though he would later rise to prominence in MMA, Ortiz had a modest beginning. In 1997, Tito Ortiz made his MMA debut at UFC 13.
Ortiz made a startling disclosure about his first UFC bout in a recent interview with Chris Van Vliet.
“I fought in UFC 13… I fought for free as an amateur, no UFC fighter in history has ever fought for free. I did it just to kinda test myself, see how good I truly could be. J.C, junior college wrestling state champion…was 199 [pounds] and thought I’d give it a try.”
“I was training with Tank Abbott who fought in the UFC at the time and thought hey let’s give this a try… so I fought May 30th, 1997, stopped my first guy in seconds. I visualized myself in the finals, and the guy that made it to the finals incidentally ended up getting hurt, and I was the replacement.”
“I was beating Guy Mezger and then they separated us, put us back on our feet, hit him with a big shot, and cut him… went for a takedown and got caught in a guillotine and didn’t know what that was at the time, white belt stuff. I had to tap, but I was hooked.”
“I loved it… as a kid growing up on the streets, parents not being around me that much, I was always dying for attention. And the attention was there of fans [wanting my autograph]… but to come to realize that this was going to be the making of Tito Ortiz.”
Ortiz experience in the UFC is nothing out of the ordinary. A number of household names today received barely any compensation when they started in the promotion. Conor McGregor reportedly received $8000 to show and $8000 to win for his UFC debut. Khabib Nurmagomedov is believed to have been similarly compensated for his UFC debut.
Ortiz talked about having one last bout this year in MMA but considering the amount of damage he’s taken over the years that seems unlikely.
After his ‘free’ performance at UFC 13, the future UFC Hall of Famer Ortiz went on to win three consecutive matches. During his championship reign, Ortiz quickly became one of the highest-paid athletes. For a while there Ortiz was managed by UFC president Dana White and the two have had a strenuous relationship due to how Ortiz believes he was slighted in the conflict of interests.