All it took for Tito Ortiz to change his mind was 24 hours. A day after turning down the open headlining spot against Rashad Evans (15-1-1, 10-1-1 UFC) at UFC 133, Ortiz had a sudden swing of heart, becoming the organization's unexpected savior following an increasingly bleak turn of events.
"Tito turned it down, and then Tito called back and said, 'Did you get the fight yet?'" UFC President Dana White told MMA Junkie Wednesday night. "I said, 'Nope.' He goes, 'Let me think about it. Let me talk to my team, and I'll call you back tomorrow.'"
That phone call took place late Tuesday night, according the White. Within the next 24 hours Ortiz would publicly state to several media outlets that he felt comfortable with his decision to decline the fight. However, behind the scenes, it was clearly not that easy.
"I guarantee you he sat around and [thought], 'That dude hasn't fought in a year and a half,'" White mused. "‘First time we fought, we fought to a draw, and we have a lot of the same attributes. I feel great, I feel healthy, just came off a big win - confidence couldn't be higher.'"
Less than a day later the fight was set.
Despite opening as a four-to-one underdog, Ortiz (16-8-1, 15-8-1 UFC) has a chance none could have thought possible. A month removed from the edge of retirement, the 36-year old suddenly finds himself on the verge of storming into light heavyweight division's top ranks.
"The storyline is what's so interesting," White said. "Tito went from, 'You're about to be cut,' to now, if he beats Rashad Evans, he's back in the mix."
"[If] he beats a top-10 contender in Ryan Bader, and then comes in and knocks off who many believe is the No. 1 contender for the title," White concluded. "No one could deny that [he's returned to the top of the division]."
It seems fitting that after a impossibly chaotic two days, in which UFC 133 teetered on the utter brink of failure and success more times than one could count, White still fell headfirst into the most sensational outcome.
The reclamation of a disregarded career is a story as old as time. For some bizarre reason, there is no thrill as fascinating as watching a pure force of nature, driven by years of slight and marginalization, uproot the castle of greatness. Somehow, with fell swoop, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" now has the chance to do something that once seemed unimaginable.
"It's [expletive] weird here," White said, the heavy weight of implications resting on his mind. "It's like I'm dealing with a new person. I like it. I like the new Tito."