Mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz, a member of the Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Fame, has a 38-foot Fountain fishing boat docked just outside his luxe waterfront home in Huntington Beach, the same Southern California town where he grew up. It’s a reminder that the life he enjoys today is a far cry from his hardscrabble youth as a “pinhead”—that’s someone who scrubs the boat down in exchange for the right to fish on it—at Newport Landing in nearby Newport Beach, California.
“I was a pinhead at age 11 and a deck hand by 16, so growing up I fished for bass, bluegill, catfish, sea trout, and lingcod,” Ortiz recalls. “Over time I’ve probably fileted at least 20,000 pounds of fish, and I’ve probably got at least 15,000 hours on the water.”
Twenty-five hundred of those hours, he says, have come during the last three-and-a-half years aboard the Fountain, which weighs 14,500 pounds and boasts a center console and a top speed of 48 mph. At least 1,800 of those 2,500 hours have been spent with his sons: Jacob, 16, and twins Jesse and Journey, who are 9. Whether they’re angling for bluefin tuna off the California coast or trapping Santa Catalina Island lobster, “There’s nothing better than fishing with your kids,” Ortiz says. “I try to make it a good time.”
“I fish better than I fight.”
Then he adds, unexpectedly: “I fish better than I fight.”
If that’s true, Ortiz must be a helluva fisherman. He’d have to be, because he’s a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and, along with the likes of Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, one of the best-known of the pioneering stars in mixed martial arts. MMA, as it’s known, is an extreme, full-contact sport that permits the likes of wrestling, boxing, kicking, karate, and judo. The UFC, based in Las Vegas, is the sport’s premier promotional company. Ortiz, who’s long been nicknamed “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” remains an MMA competitor—even after turning 44 in January. “I’ve still got that hunger,” he says. “It’s not about proving anything. I want to do it, and I know I can do it. I feel like a young kid, but now I’m doing it for all the old guys!”
Born Jacob Christopher Ortiz—his father nicknamed him “Tito” when he was just a year old—Ortiz grew up in rough circumstances in Huntington Beach and Santa Ana, California. Think street gangs, drug abuse, and juvenile hall. His parents, who were both heroin addicts, divorced just as he was entering his teenage years, and his mother moved back to Huntington. (She’s been drug-free for years.) At the age of 15, Ortiz started wrestling at Huntington Beach High School and found that he excelled at it. One of his coaches, Paul Herrera, later encouraged him to enroll at Golden West College, also in Huntington Beach. Ortiz did so and became an All-American wrestler and a California junior-college state champion before transferring to California State University, Bakersfield.
He was still attending Golden West when he started competing, at first as an amateur, in mixed martial arts. Several TKO victories followed, and Tito’s MMA star began its ascent. At UFC 25, in 2000, he won a unanimous decision to become the Light Heavyweight Champion—and then went on to successfully defend the title no fewer than five times in the next three years.
Over the next decade and a half, Ortiz’ career had its share of ups and downs. He finally lost his Light Heavyweight Championship to Couture, for example, and then dropped another big fight to Liddell. He stepped away from the UFC, even serving as a professional-wrestling referee for a while, before roaring back, throttling UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock no fewer than three times. After undergoing major back surgery in 2009, Ortiz staged another UFC comeback, salvaging his career and reputation by pummeling Ryan Bader after losing a string of fights. Starting in 2013 he came back again, affiliating with Belator MMA—another fighting organization that competes with UFC—and won a number of matches before announcing his retirement from MMA. But then last year, unbelievably, Ortiz announced yet another comeback, squaring off against Liddell again and beating him—for the first time—with a knockout in Round One.
And the thing is, he’s not through competing yet. “The fight against Chuck last year was really easy,” Ortiz says. “I’m 5-1 in my last six fights, and my body feels good. I remember talking to my friend Randy Couture about why he fought for the heavyweight title at the age of 43. He said, ‘I had a lot left in me. I wanted to be successful.’ I’ve spent more than half my life competing, and I like to be in great fight shape. And, I know I can do it. So let’s have some fun in 2019!”
At the time of our interview, the 6-foot-3-inch Ortiz said he was talking with three companies about a possible affiliation—“They offered me some really good money,” he said—and he was planning to pick one soon. He also was concentrating on three businesses he owns. One is a Huntington Beach-based management company called PrimeTime 360 Entertainment & Sports Agency, which Ortiz says represents “about 20 up-and-comers” in the MMA world. A second venture is Punishment Athletics, which offers a line of hoodies, jackets, flame shorts, and other athletic gear for men, women, and kids at punishment.com. Ortiz’ third business, T.O.Autogroup, is a wholesale car company based in Fontana, California. He stays in touch with the companies’ customers—and with his fans—by posting frequently on Twitter and Instagram (@titoortiz and @titoortiz1999, respectively).
‘I Can Catch These Fish’
Another of Ortiz’ current passions looks to combine show business with fishing in a new TV show, tentatively called “Sea Monsters with Tito Ortiz.” The outdoor adventure program, which Ortiz says a production company is “exploring,” would send him to a variety of global locales to try to land the biggest fish in that area. One show might find him in the Great Barrier Reef, for example, where he would aim to catch the largest giant black marlin. Another might have him in Alaska, fishing for the biggest halibut, or angling for a huge kingfish off New Zealand. “If I’ve got a good skipper,” Ortiz says, “I can adapt and catch these fish.”
There’s no doubt, he’s more than proficient with a rod and reel. Several years ago, for instance, Ortiz participated in the very serious, very competitive Bisbee’s Black & Blue Marlin Tournament, which takes place every October in the Los Cabos region of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The Black & Blue, one of three fishing tournaments produced by Bisbee’s each year, has grown over nearly four decades from just a few participating teams and a $10,000 purse to more than 150 teams, with purses in the multimillion-dollar range. In 2006, the Bisbee’s Black & Blue boasted an overall cash payout of $4.16 million—the biggest payout in sport-fishing history.
For the 2014 tourney, Ortiz and his friend Jay Yadon hooked up with Robert Ross, the skipper of a 37-foot Boston Whaler with a 400-horsepower Mercury Verado engine. While Ortiz says he “brought in a couple” of marlin among the seven that were caught by the team, in the end a mix-up with the required digital photos knocked the trio out of contention. But Ortiz is planning a return to the Black & Blue this fall.
Meanwhile, the MMA star says he’s focusing a lot these days on “trying to be an inspiration” for his three sons. Jacob, the oldest, is from Ortiz’ first marriage, which lasted five years. The twins, Jesse and Journey, resulted from his relationship with Jenna Jameson, which ended in 2013. He’s been with his girlfriend, Amber Nichole Miller, for five years, Ortiz says, and has a “positive life” now after trying to raise the boys as a single father: “That was super-super challenging.”
These days, with Amber’s help, things are different. Ortiz closely monitors the boys’ Xbox use, makes sure they fold their own laundry, and, of course, bonds with them on those fishing trips. “My No. 1 thing is my kids, man,” he says. “I try to raise them to be respectful, to be honest, to shake hands, to look you in the eye. They know that you need to keep your word, and that you don’t tarnish your name. So far, so good. People say, ‘Gosh, your kids are so well-mannered!’”
“You can become anything. Just believe in yourself.”
The apple, it seems, didn’t fall far from the tree. Despite the brutal sport he’s succeeded in, Ortiz in person and on social media is unfailingly polite, patriotic, philanthropic—and positive, above all else. Proclaims his Twitter feed: CALLOUT “You can become anything. Just believe in yourself.”
George L. Prajin, Ortiz’ longtime business associate and agent, says Ortiz came by his upbeat attitude honestly. “Tito never had it easy. He has had to literally fight his whole life to escape stereotypes and social and economic barriers,” Prajin says. “He succumbed to gangs and drugs and was a lost child. Fortunately, though, he found inspiration in a positive platform—wrestling—and wrestling saved his life. He had a positive role model in his high-school wrestling coach, who made him believe that nothing was impossible and he could be great.
“Tito realizes he wasn’t a slave to those barriers, as long as he put forth blood, sweat, and tears and stayed out of trouble—and he did,” Prajin goes on. “He parlayed that inspiration into fighting as an adult and became Tito Ortiz, continuing the hard-work ethic—and never forgetting where he came from.”
The Huntington Beach Bad Boy, it seems, turned out pretty good after all.