Tito 2.0 Offers More Questions Than Answers

by FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe

UFC 106 was supposed to have two main storylines, a heavyweight title fight between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin and a co-main event between Tito Ortiz and Mark Coleman that would mark the return of the Huntington Beach Bad Boy after an eighteen month absence from the Octagon.

Then disaster struck.

Lesnar had to pull out because of a medical condition leaving the card without a main event while Coleman withdrew due to injury leaving Oritz without an opponent. The solution? Ortiz/Griffin II became the main event and the promotion was off and running.

Newly re-cast in the role of headliner, Tito was the main focus of the media and publicity coming into the event and spoke long and often about being pain-free for the first time in years after successful back surgery and finally being able to fight at 100%. Ortiz fans were understandably brimming with excitement and confidence as their favorite fighter made his way to the cage with the familiar Eminem anthem, “Time for War,” blaring through the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Unfortunately, Tito 2.0 isn’t the fighter that Tito sold us he’d be.

His striking looked technically sound but slow and lacking much pop. The signature conditioning Tito was famous for during his five-fight reign as the UFC light heavyweight champion of the world betrayed him severely by the third round, so much so that he became a sitting duck for the always-conditioned Griffin. Tito 2.0 doesn’t look world class anymore, but he was singing a different tune after the fight than he was in the lead up to the event.

He talked of only sparring once in camp, having bulging discs in his neck/upper back area and fighting with a “cracked skull”. Somehow though, he sees himself getting his title back despite all these issues. That remains to be seen. Only he knows if he is selling us on that idea (like the pre-fight hype of being 100%) or if he really believes it. Yes, the ring rust will get buffed off and his cardio should start to shine through, but he’s a long, long way from the elite at 205 as of this writing.

And he still was good enough to beat Forrest Griffin.

Forrest had his own issues coming into the fight as he disclosed that he broke his foot three weeks before the bout and “wanted some props for kicking a guy with a broken foot.” I give both he and Tito credit for dealing with the adversity and pain of whatever injuries they were nursing. Regardless of that, they both showed up, neither finished the fight and we were left, wincing, with it going to the judges.

The first round saw neither fighter dominate with Tito effectively winning the standup early on with good timing and counterpunching. Forrest landed more blows later in the round, so the striking was about even for me. The difference in the round was that Ortiz took Griffin down successfully and maintained top control for a short period. Two out of three judges gave Tito the round with the lone dissent coming from Lester Griffin who scored all three rounds for Griffin. No, they’re not related, but Lester might as well be Forrest’s favorite uncle to give him all three rounds. Utterly ridiculous.

The second round was a more obvious round for Tito in my eyes. Sorry, Uncle Lester. Ortiz took Forrest down and had dominant position on the ground for more than half the round and nailed him with an elbow that split him open and left him bleeding profusely. Forrest swept Tito with about 30 seconds left in the round and inflicted little to no damage. Amazingly, he was given the round on two of three scorecards. While round two was an early Christmas present for Griffin, he owned the third as Tito did almost nothing, and I really mean nothing, for the whole round. He blamed ring rust and not being able to do certain things in camp. Whatever the reason, he became a sitting duck out there and got hit over and over and over by Forrest who mounted points to win the round while never rocking or hurting Ortiz. I can’t help but flashback on Rampage’ infamous quote, “Forrest doesn’t hit hard enough to bust a grape.” I wouldn’t have had any issue of the judges made it a 10-8 round because it was as lopsided as it was, even absent the damage.

In the end, glib self-promoter Oritz and fan fave Griffin will both be back to promote another fight another day. Forrest fans will label his marginal victory as proof he’s still a contender. Don’t buy it just yet. If this version of Forrest gets in the cage with the elite of the class he once sat atop of I don’t expect it to go well. Ditto for Tito 2.0.

Impressive Performances

Josh Koscheck showed heart, balls, power, wrestling, jits and a solid chin –basically everything you’d want to see in a fighter – en route to a second round rear naked choke that sent the very big, very talented Anthony Johnson a few steps down the welterweight ladder. Josh and AJ picked up a cool 70K for “Fight of the Night” while Josh hit the Daily Double with another 70K for “Submission of the Night.” Hardy gets GSP next, but my money would be on Kos if he and Hardy went at it for the right to lose to Georges.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, brother of former interim UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, showed why he was a Brazilian and South American Games Boxing Champion and went on to take the Bronze medal at the Pan American games. He earned a “Knockout of the Night” bonus with a devastating overhand left that sent rising star Luis Cane crashing to the canvas at 1:56 of the first round.

Ben Saunders went to 4-1 in the welterweight division as he handed Marcus Davis his second straight loss. Ben diffused the “Irish Hand Grenade” with a knee from the clinch that shows what happens when a 6-foot-3- inch welterweight gets the plum and knows what to do with it.

HIT Squad product Brian Foster came into his fight with Brock Larson looking to be only the fourth man in Larson’s thirty fights to beat the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts protégé. Mission accomplished. After getting two points deducted in the first round (it was scored 10-7) Larson, a 5-1 favorite, was utterly dominated by Foster, finally tapping due to strikes in the second round.

Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio.

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