Ortiz: A top 10 fighter, or just another victim?
Spread over a full season, pressures associated with a contract year can be managed. But what about when everything an athlete has worked for boils down to one 15-minute stretch?
For Tito Ortiz, his strategy is to simply hope for the best.
Leading up to the former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder's fight against Lyoto Machida on May 24 -- the final bout on his current UFC contract -- Ortiz repeated his intentions of finding a new home because of a strained relationship with the company's president, Dana White.
The important question as we near Memorial Day weekend is whether Ortiz can move into the open market as a viable Top 10 fighter (as proven by a win over the young Brazilian), or if he'll limp into the "MMA Wild West" as Machida's 13th straight victim.
Many seem to think Machida was handpicked to knock off Ortiz. A tricky southpaw made more dangerous by staunch defense and accurate counterpunching, Machida is expected to hold an edge over Ortiz while they stand and trade. So, not surprisingly, it's on the canvas where Ortiz and his supporters believe Machida could be vulnerable for a loss. Inexperienced against anyone possessing the wrestling chops of Ortiz, Machida is also in position to answer questions surrounding his strengths and weaknesses as a fighter.
Despite being listed as an underdog, Ortiz appears to hold some advantages in the fight. He's bigger and brings much more experience, just to name two. For Ortiz to do well, he'll have to set the tone early. Let's not forget, Forrest Griffin is a pretty tough guy, and Ortiz nearly stopped him in the opening round. Under that kind of onslaught, can Machida hold up? I'm not so sure.
While a loss at this point of Machida's career wouldn't be devastating, the same isn't necessarily true for Ortiz. If unscathed by the fight with Machida, Ortiz is immediately worth more to promoters who hope to cash in on his unique standing as a fighter. If beaten and dismissed, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" would remain marketable based more on the strength of his name than the strength of his game.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's a real chance Ortiz (15-5-1) could remain with the UFC. Never mind all the bluster between him and White. We've heard it before and it's not like these two haven't put aside personal differences to make money together. (A couple years ago Ortiz was strongly rumored to be heading to the World Fighting Alliance, but at the last minute -- and for the right price -- he remained in the octagon.)
White begrudgingly brought Ortiz back when he appeared destined for the upstart promotion, billing itself as the UFC killer. Several promotions in that mold are lurking around these days, and an energized Ortiz could improve an organization's attempt to seize on the sport's momentum.
One thing remains certain when it comes to Ortiz: he knows how to sell a fight. Look at the promotion leading into his contest at UFC 84. With Machida's limited English making it tough to engage in any kind of pre-fight verbal warfare, the back-and-forth relationship with White, who has acted as Ortiz's foil for years anyhow, has helped drive discussion of the card and Ortiz across message boards and into columns.
It's safe to say Ortiz's career won't be defined based on the result of his performance on May 24. But a win against Machida, and the subsequent departure from UFC, could thrust Ortiz back into a spotlight that has dimmed in recent years.
Yup, no pressure there.
What to watch this weekend
International Fight League (HDNet, 8:30-11 p.m. ET, Friday)
Perhaps you noticed a theme in my columns this week. Well, it would only be appropriate to bookend articles following Dream 3 and leading into B.J. Penn-Sean Sherk with a note on Friday's IFL card at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.
The card features three championship fights: a lightweight clash between titleholder Ryan Schultz, of Team Quest in Gresham, Ore., and Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu's Deividas Taurosevicius; a heavyweight title bout between champ Roy Nelson and Brad Imes; and a middleweight championship between Ryan McGivern and Dan Miller. Needless to say, this is a card worth watching.
Academy of Country Music Awards (CBS, 8-11 p.m. ET, Sunday)
One presenter at the CMA's, apparently, wasn't worthy enough to make TVGuide.com's brief description of the proceedings: Reba McEntire hosts the 43rd annual gala in Las Vegas, performers include Trace Adkins, Rodney Atkins, Brooks and Dunn, Miranda Lambert, Montgomery Gentry, Dolly Parton, Sugarland, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.
Where's Kimbo? Yes, the Kimbo Slice. The fighter is presenting at the awards show, but the announcement of his appearance is what I'm here for. I'm already nominating the inevitable YouTube clip for next week's top five random MMA videos on SI.com. I'm hoping he wears the same shirt that punctuated his appearance on the co-promoted EliteXC/Strikeforce card at the end of March. Now that's good TV.
Josh Gross will periodically answer questions from SI.com users. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.