ROSEMEAD, Calif. -- Tito Ortiz hasn't won a mixed martial arts fight in four years, and hasn't been a UFC champion for seven years. He's much more famous these days for his tumultuous personal life and public feuds than his abilities in an octagon.
Tell that to the fans who gathered outside the UFC's gym in suburban Los Angeles on Thursday for a glimpse of the fighter who still captures their imagination many years after he apparently peaked.
Ortiz is no longer the most famous man in MMA, but he claims to be a happier, healthier fighter now -- even while he still harbors plans to reclaim his long-lost title.
"I don't care about who's the face of what," Ortiz said. "I just want to do my job, and that's to get my hand raised."
Finally healthy after his latest neck surgery, Ortiz is grateful to be a mere undercard fighter at UFC 121 on Saturday night when he meets Matt Hamill, his former student. In just his second bout since returning to the UFC after a prolonged spat with Dana White, the UFC president and his former manager, Ortiz is still chasing his first win since 2006, when he began his fall from the sport's apex.
Although Ortiz realizes the Honda Center crowd in his native Orange County might boo one of his sport's bigger antiheroes over the past decade, the bleached-blond Huntington Beach Bad Boy is more than willing to sell his fight as a supporting attraction to Brock Lesnar's heavyweight title defense against Cain Velasquez.
"It takes a lot of pressure off. It's awesome," Ortiz said after showing up to Thursday's news conference at Walt Disney Concert Hall in a double-breasted brown suit and tie, looking every bit the corporate pitchman.
"I like to see Brock doing all the work, Cain doing all the work," Ortiz said. "I can watch them do the extra PR. I'm thankful just to be on the card. I saw this card in Anaheim, and I called Dana and said, 'Is there an opening on that card?' I have no problem with that at all. I just need to work my way back on top. I understand that, and when I prove myself on Saturday night, it'll be in the UFC's hands."
Ortiz was the face of the UFC alongside Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell during much of its growth from a money-losing tent promotion into a billion-dollar entertainment company, but he hasn't held that role for the UFC for several years.
He was out of the company entirely just two years ago, badmouthing White's leadership and rupturing a longtime friendship that only healed last year. Even now, their public dealings don't exactly seem comfortable -- but White realizes the pull Ortiz still exerts among MMA fans.
"We're cool," White said. "This is a business, and you're going to butt heads sometimes. Tito and I have more than butted heads, but it's fine. It's all good."
Ortiz also struggled with several serious injuries, including problems with his back and neck that were only recently resolved by surgery. He had his most recent surgery on his neck March 15, and he spent four months recovering before he called White and asked for a fight on the Anaheim card.
"I've gone through my first camp in seven years without taking a day off, except Sundays," Ortiz said. "This is the first camp I've felt 100 percent and done all the workouts I do when I'm a world champion."
He hasn't held a belt since 2003. He put together a string of victories in 2006, but lost another title shot against Liddell.
That's also when he began his rocky relationship with Jenna Jameson, the former porn star and the mother of his twin sons, who accused him of domestic violence in April. Ortiz then accused Jameson of being addicted to Oxycontin, yet they reconciled just a few days later.
Although his time away from MMA and his lack of recent success clearly have humbled Ortiz, a bit of the old Bad Boy emerged in a recent interview when he suggested that Hamill, who is deaf, could be knocked out easily because he has "a soft head."
Ortiz still harbors hopes of fighting Liddell for the third time, although White unequivocally squashed the notion Thursday, saying he won't allow Liddell back in his octagon after losing five of his last six fights.
Before thinking about another opponent, Ortiz must prove in UFC 121 that he still belongs, but he's confident he'll give his home crowd a reason to cheer.
"To be a part of this, to see this happen in the UFC, I'm grateful," Ortiz said. "This sport has exploded even more than I ever expected. People understand what this UFC is about now. UFC is here to stay, and it's going to be here for a long, long time."