top of page

Tito Ortiz: MMA’s First Generation Bad Boy

American culture is defined by rebellion. We champion rebels because rebels seem the freest of us all. The spirit of the rebel is a trope that materializes in every form of entertainment on the planet, precisely because it is so rare, and most audiences are risk averse. Nothing about the lifestyle of the rebel is safe or certain. The only certainty is their willingness to follow whatever path they please and the righteousness to change that path as it suits them. Gone are the days where the masses are in awe of the pious.

Our nation itself was born of rebellion. Renown figures seem to embody the state itself. How fitting that our nation’s onlookers are intoxicated by them. A rebel’s existence is itself charismatic, even if they themselves are taciturn. Picture the American dream and internalize what it really represents. A castaway, unknown, bottom of the barrel individual can emerge from the haze that is destitution and mature into a spotlight of their own. This success itself contradicts the limitations imposed by class systems throughout history. Though not guaranteed, rebellion in prize fighting can fast track young talent for the largest purses.

A post shared by Fan Account (@huntingtonbeachbadboy) on Nov 24, 2019 at 3:08pm PST

Anyone would be challenged to find another profession that embraces the energy, singularity, or the boisterous misconduct of the “Bad Boy” more than combat sports. Though MMA is young and burgeoning there have already been a few generations of bad boys. Each has added their own stone to the cobbled road of MMA history.

The standard-bearer for all these generations is The Huntington Beach Bad Boy, Tito Ortiz. Soon he will headline yet another event against Alberto Del Rio on December 7th, for Combate Americas. There is something to be said for Tito’s longevity in the sport. However, what makes this legacy so significant is his identity as a rebel, and the permissions it grants young fighters today.

A post shared by Bellator MMA Russia (@bellatorrussia) on Nov 3, 2019 at 6:13am PST

Combat newcomers may only remember Tito’s last bout when he heroically KO’d Chuck Liddell. It was poetic. And the excessive, but common celebration thereafter was a demonstration of the polarizing attitude that guided Tito toward so much success early on in his career.

Tito burst onto the scene and the fans had to wait a while for him define his own identity. His dominance was emphatic, taking every opportunity to disrespect his opponents, sometimes even before they regained consciousness. Back then the veterans and pioneers took exception to that. Especially when it was their athletes falling victim to such ostentatious behavior.

Ken Shamrock was not particularly fond of Tito, neither was Randy Couture, but Tito’s footprint on the sport is bigger than anyone else from that era. Tito defined his era through his libertine impropriety whenever there was a camera present. No one was tuning in to see how polite GSP could be and Matt Hughes was fighting on Tito’s undercard as a sitting champion. Tito would flip off his opponents, dig their proverbial graves, get in their face, get in the face of their coaches etc. He always made the contest more than just a sporting competition, he turned them into vendettas.

A post shared by Tito Ortiz (@titoortiz1999) on Nov 19, 2019 at 2:38pm PST

After any competition, one seizes glory and the other receives embarrassment, but drama exacerbates the consequences of hand to hand combat. An audience will experience a strong emotional shift no matter the outcome. That is how Tito etched his place in history: earning an invested fanbase. That is a part of Tito’s legacy, and legacies define generations.  

Tito normalized mischief early on when MMA was barely on TV and still heavily stigmatized. Today the sport is more widely accepted. We still see fighters jump each other on camera, smash windows endangering half a fight card, and use catchphrases to reference sucker punching each other backstage. These guys cannot get more popular.

Pleasantly, this behavior will continue to go virtually unpunished. To an extent, everyone has Tito to thank for that. Though Tito seems today to be a lot less troubled, a part of him is still that same punk kid he used to be. In the twilight of his career, you must tune in to watch one of Tito’s last contests against a fellow showman. Despite his age, it will still be compelling to watch the bad boy pioneer compete one more time and lay it all on the line on December 7th. ■

3 views0 comments


bottom of page