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James Christopher “Tito” Ortiz was one of the biggest names in Mixed Marital Arts.
“My father gave me the nickname when I was a little boy,” explains Ortiz. “Tito means tyrant, and I was a handful.”
Today, Ortiz is living the life of a businessman and proud father of three boys.
“One is 14 and the twins are eight, and they’re all wrestling. I try to make them eat well and get a good attitude for life.”
No too long ago, however, Ortiz was still fighting in the cage. On January 21st he won his last fight before he ultimately retired.
Now he’s looking for new challenges, and poker is one of them.
A special invitee to the PokerStars Championship Panama this week, his first major event has gone amazingly well. He spent much of the first two days near the chip lead and is still alive as just 30 players remain.
We caught up with him for a chat along the way.
PL: How come you’re doing so well here? Are you that good?
Tito Ortiz: I’m a quick learner. Felipe Ramos helped me a bit yesterday to get through this. He taught me a couple of little secrets.
I followed his directions and it worked out really well. Of course, there’s also a bit of instinct involved and I’ve been a big blackjack player for the last 20 years.
Now I’ve been playing poker for the last four or five years and the more I play, the better I get. I became a world champion in wrestling, so who knows?
If I put enough time into poker I might be a world champion again.
PL: Maybe other players looked at you and were just scared to raise.
TO: I don’t think so. Many players tried to make a statement against me and show that they’re better than me. But every time they do, they prove themselves wrong.
PL: What did Felipe Ramos tell you?
TO: Watch out for the tight players. These guys are not messing around and they’re not bluffing you. Actually, in a championship like this, there are few bluffs.
Everyone tries to play their good hands right and those who do it best come out with the biggest stacks.
PL: What would your career have been if you hadn’t become a fighter?
TO: Probably, I would have become a high school wrestling coach and a research teacher. I like to help kids and I’ve always been a person that gives back to society.
There’ve been teachers and coaches I looked up to and who helped me with my career and after 20 years of competitive Mixed Martial Arts I want to give to the next generation.
I also want to give my children chances I’ve never had. I’m trying to mold men, not boys. I want to be the best father I can be because if I mess up I can’t take it back.
PL: What other sports do you follow?
TO: I follow hockey, I follow a little poker, especially when the World Series is on. I watch the Super Bowl when it’s on. My favorites are the Ducks and the Kings.
PL: Your favorite poker player?
TO: You know, it’s the person who’s helped me the most– Felipe Ramos. He deserves to be my favorite player because of the way he was taking his time and didn’t ask anything from me. We were really building a friendship along the way.
PL: You think you’ve got the tournament bug now?
TO: I just might. It takes some time to play a tournament, and I’m an ADD person. I go from one thing to another. Listening to music helps me calm down and Felipe confirmed I should do that.
Definitely, any time PokerStars want me to come out and play I’d love to. They’ve always treated me with utter respect. It’s been first-class treatment since I came here.
PL: Let’s hear your expertise. Mayweather vs McGregor – who’s going to win it?
TO: Mayweather knockout 2nd round. He will knock McGregor out.
PL: Does it even make sense to compare the two sports?
TO: No. What people don’t seem to understand is that this is a money fight. It’s all about money on this one.
Let’s say Floyd beats him. He’s supposed to beat him. Then McGregor’s going to turn around and ask him to come into the cage.
Mayweather’s gonna say, ‘no, I’m a boxer, I’ll stay in the ring,’ and that’ll be it. Conor has made his $10 million, Floyd has made his $100 million, done.
PL: Is there anything in it to win for McGregor? If he wins he’s beat a retired boxer.
TO: There’s everything in it to win for him. No MMA fighter has ever stepped into a boxing ring and fought a champion like Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather is the best ever.
I followed Mayweather’s career from the start and at the time I thought he wasn’t that great. But then I watched him beat guys time and time again, and be untouchable. I mean, Manny Pacquiao comes at him and couldn’t even touch him.
He is the best ever. He doesn’t get hit. And Conor has nothing to lose in this fight. If he loses, he loses to the best ever. And if he beats him in a sport he doesn’t even do, he’s beat the best ever.
PL: Did it ever cross your mind to take on a boxer?
TO: Yes, I think it was James Toney at the time. I thought about it but only in MMA, not in boxing.
I’m a wrestler at heart. I don’t like to get punched in the face. You show me a man who likes to get punched in the face and I’ll show you a stupid man.
I’ve always tried to keep my wits and after 20 years of MMA I can walk away without any severe damage to my head.
It’s very close at the top of MMA. I fought against the greatest fighters in the sport. I lost to the greatest, I had draws against the greatest, and I beat the greatest.
At the end of the day my goal was to be a household name in fighting, and I am. We all put in a lot of hard work. It comes down to who wakes up with a smile on their face.
On the morning of my last fight, I woke up with a big smile on my face. I walked down the ramp with my son by my side. There were tears rolling down his face, but I said ‘don’t worry, son.’
It took two minutes and five seconds and I took the guy out. Then I took my son and walked into the sunset, man, saying thank you to the fans.