It’s hard to let go of the legends you grew up watching. Thousands of Pride fanatics wake up every day longing for the glory days of Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. There’s probably an entire army’s worth of kids still mourning the end of the Anderson Silva era in Brazil. I’d even be willing to bet there are a few farm boys in Hillsboro, Ill., with Matt Hughes Google alerts turned on, praying for a comeback fight. It’s difficult to watch the fighters you grew to idolize get old and eventually fail to keep up with the next generation of the sport. It’s even worse when that fighter refuses to call it a day and hang up their gloves.

Tito Ortiz has been walking the fine line between active competition and retirement for a long time now. At one point, he was one of the most popular and successful fighters in MMA history, becoming one of the UFC’s premier stars in the early 2000s during his lengthy run with the promotion’s light heavyweight title. His rivalry with Chuck Liddell is still considered one of the most exciting in MMA history. Before his free fall in 2007, Ortiz was on his way to going down as one of the biggest stars in the sport’s history.

Now, it feels like Ortiz is barely holding on to what little of his legacy he has left, and by extension, Bellator MMA is clinging to it as well. Bellator’s decision to give Ortiz a featured spot on the biggest event in the promotion’s history is a strange one, and the senselessness of the booking hasn’t been lost on MMA fans. Everything from Ortiz’s ability to make it to the cage to his scheduled opponent, Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, have been questioned since the announcement last month. As we grow closer and closer to fight time, it’s becoming obvious that the vast majority of fight fans are no longer willing to throw down their hard-earned cash for an Ortiz fight.

It has taken a ridiculously terrible 10-fight stretch and a handful of instances of bad publicity over the past few years, but the MMA community has finally gotten to the point to where they don’t really care about Ortiz. That’s a problem for Bellator, which is still treating Ortiz like a bonafide MMA superstar even though he hasn’t been one for roughly five years.

When Bellator booked a “superfight” between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Ortiz to headline what was supposed to be the promotion’s inaugural pay-per-view event last year, the reaction was admittedly lukewarm, but the decision was understandable. Rampage and Ortiz are two of the most well-known fighters in the world, and regardless of whether or not they were past their prime, a few casual fans were bound to drop a few dollars on the fight. That bout didn’t end up happening due to an almost expected Ortiz injury, but the logic behind it made sense, even if it almost completely betrayed the Bellator model at that time.

Now, with Rampage locked into a grudge match with Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal for the upcoming pay-per-view, it appears that Bellator realized that it still had Ortiz in its back pocket and decided to get him on the card at any cost. Ortiz was a big name and could possibly help earn a few additional pay-per-view buys, and that was more than enough for Bellator to give him a slot on its most coveted card of the year. The promotion settled on current Bellator middleweight kingpin Shlemenko to take on Ortiz in a fight that makes absolutely no sense for either competitor.

On paper, this gives a Bellator champion a chance to earn a win over a UFC Hall of Famer, but, in reality, a win over Ortiz doesn’t exactly bolster a resume these days. The best-case scenario for Bellator? Ortiz is able to draw in a few thousand fans based on his name value and puts up a decently competitive fight. The worst-case scenario, however, should horrify the promotion. If Ortiz is able to pull off the upset and defeat one of Bellator’s most dominant champions, it kills pretty much all credibility in the promotion’s middleweight division. For a company still pining for acceptance alongside the UFC, such a humiliating loss for one of its champions would be a tough obstacle to overcome. A loss to Ortiz in 2008 would have been a momentum killer, but a loss to Ortiz in 2014 is a possible career killer.

To call the last half decade a disaster for Ortiz would be an understatement. Even the most ardent Ortiz supporters can admit that much. After losing a second bout to Liddell in late 2006, Ortiz saw the wheels completely come off of his career. In his next bout, Ortiz was docked a point for grabbing the fence, which cost him a win over then up-and-comer Rashad Evans. The fight was labeled a draw, and Ortiz didn’t come close to entering the winner’s circle for almost five years.

It would seem that fight fans would be rooting for Ortiz to make a successful comeback. The man has injured more bones and muscles than most people even realize they have. He’s won just a single fight in nearly eight years, and that win was considered one of the biggest upsets in UFC history when it happened almost three years ago. A return to glory for Ortiz would be something along the lines of a Rocky storyline times 1,000, and there are probably still a few people that want nothing more than “The People’s Champ” to pull off a miracle. However, for every single one of those fans hoping for Ortiz’s return to the top, there’s another hundred that wish he would just go away.

There’s no question that Ortiz would have been better off walking away back in 2008 when UFC President Dana White practically had his bags waiting for him in front of the arena following his contract-ending loss to Lyoto Machida. The injuries had already started to pile up, and although he would have exited after going winless in his last three bouts, he still had a solid resume and legacy to leave behind. Instead, Ortiz decided to return. He’s found ways to draw the ire of the majority of MMA fans ever since. It’s not that fans didn’t enjoy watching Ortiz fight back in the day, but the version of “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” that has stepped into the cage over the last six years has been a shell of his former self. The wide variety of injuries obviously had a lot to do with this, along with father time, but it’s been clear that Ortiz hasn’t been competing at a high level for years now. Yet, first the UFC and now Bellator continue to give him primetime slots.

To Bellator’s credit, the promotion has made sure that this time its pay-per-view fortunes do not live or die by the health of Ortiz. The promotion took a major risk when it put him in the main event the first time it attempted to throw a pay-per-view card, and the decision came back to bite the promotion when Ortiz pulled out of the fight and Bellator was forced to shift the card from pay-per-view to its typical cable home. This time, the promotion has made Ortiz more of a featured attraction, rather than the entire show. If he ends up having to withdraw from the fight, Bellator has covered its bases. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Ortiz shouldn’t be competing in a fight of this magnitude to begin with.

Shlemenko is one of the best fighters on the Bellator roster. He has been one of the staples of the organization thus far. Ortiz is a 39-year-old ex-champion who has won a single fight since President Obama was elected. It’s not hard to see why the hardcore MMA fans aren’t all that interested in this fight, and Ortiz’s value amongst the casual fans has all but faded. Can you remember the last time you had a conversation with a casual MMA fan and Ortiz’s name came up? Me neither.

Bellator is banking on Ortiz earning the promotion a few extra pay-per-view dollars due to his drawing power with the casual fans, but how much power does he really have left? And are the casual fans the group that Bellator should really be going after? Let’s face it, Bellator is still miles behind the UFC in terms of brand recognition and the majority of people buying a Bellator pay-per-view card are going to be fans anyway. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to give the third spot on the card to fighters that actually captured the attention of those fans?

The sport keeps evolving, and the fan base has evolved with it. We look back on guys like Liddell and Randy Couture fondly, but that doesn’t mean we want to see them get back into the cage again. Eventually, fighters fade from the spotlight. The fighters of yesterday are all but gone, and most of the MMA world has accepted this fact. If Bellator wants to be recognized as the promotion of the future, it has to stop banking on the past.

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.