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Behind the Bad Boy (cont.)

Posted: Friday July 6, 2007 4:43PM; Updated: Saturday July 7, 2007 3:56PM
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Tito Ortiz poses for a shot during the leadup to his Dec. 2006 bout with Chuck Liddell, one of only two UFC fighters to beat Ortiz.
Tito Ortiz poses for a shot during the leadup to his Dec. 2006 bout with Chuck Liddell, one of only two UFC fighters to beat Ortiz.
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Truth be told, the moniker of "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was actually born on the streets of Santa Ana when Ortiz joined F-Troop, the largest gang in Orange County, before his 10th birthday. "I was 9 but I felt like I was 14 or 15, I was very mature at a young age," he says. "When I was in the gang we'd smoke pot and drink alcohol. I knew that it wasn't good. It wasn't like my parents were telling me anything; it was just something in my heart telling me I was a bad person."

It took a tragedy to save his life.

While sitting on Shelton Street, where most of the gangs would hang out, Ortiz and his friends were drinking beer and contemplating their next transgression when a car pulled up. "Where you from, homes?" asked the driver, before pulling out a gun.

"I jumped over the brick wall with two of my other friends and we heard the bullets hit the bricks," says Ortiz. "I took off running through the back way and my friends went the opposite direction. My friend called me and told me that our friend Jose got shot. I went back around and I saw him dead. That's when I really got scared. I ran him and told my mom, 'We've got to get out of this place!'"

Although Ortiz's father refused to leave, Ortiz and his mother returned to Huntington Beach. Seven years after leaving his brothers and his friends, Ortiz was back home -- older, tougher and still holding on to his "bad boy" image.

"I was still causing trouble and hanging out with the wrong people," says Ortiz. "I was always in fights. Every summer I went to juvenile hall . I just felt like a rebel, a rebel against everything."

Stepping in to The Octagon

Jerry Bohlander might not know this, but he more than anyone else inspired Ortiz to join the UFC. While Ortiz was familiar with mixed martial arts from his high school wrestling coach, Paul Herrera, who fought in the UFC, it wasn't until Ortiz watched Bohlander win the first lightweight tournament at UFC 12 in 1997 that he knew he could hang in the Octagon.

"I knew he looked familiar and then I remembered I had manhandled him in high school," says Ortiz. "I beat him up and now he was doing this. After I saw that I knew I could do it."

Ortiz contacted legendary UFC fighter Tank Abbott, who he had previously sparred with after being referred by Herrera while he was at Golden West College. Abbott made a few calls and Ortiz was put on the UFC 13 card in Augusta, Ga., where he was used as alternate fighter and beat Wes Albritton and lost to Guy Mezger on the same night.

"May 30, 1997, I remember everything about that night," says Ortiz. "I remember sitting in the Octagon, walking back and forth, thinking, 'Holy s---, I'm in here. Don't make a mistake! Fight and don't make a mistake!' After it was over, I had such energy rush. I made a statement: a star born."

After his debut, Ortiz beat Bohlander, the man who inspired Ortiz to step into the Octagon, and Mezger, the man who handed Ortiz his first loss, in impressive fashion, finishing off both with first-round TKOs.

While Ortiz would lose his next fight against Frank Shamrock in a four-round classic for the UFC middleweight title, the defeat ended up being a blessing in disguise. "After the fight was over, I was really bummed. I went back home and went into work the next day," says Ortiz. "I was still working at Spanky's Adult Video Store in Santa Ana, and the owner, Ron Haskins, pulled me aside and said, 'I don't think I can have you here anymore. I don't think this job is for you.' I was like, 'What do you mean? I need the money to pay for my rent.' He's said, 'I'll tell you what I'm going to do for you. You're not going to work here anymore, but I'll pay for your housing, your cell phone bill, your gas. All I want you to do is just train.' That was the real turning point in my career."

Fully focused on training, Ortiz beat Wanderlei Silva seven months later to win the new UFC light heavyweight title. He went on to successfully defend the title five times in the following three years before finally dropping the belt to Randy Couture by unanimous decision.

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