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Ortiz shows many sides in and out of octagon

May 21, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

BIG BEAR LAKE -- Tito Ortiz is demonstrating the guillotine choke hold for me, and listen, if he was a real Tubbo, you wouldn't hear me calling him that.

I'm on my best behavior, sitting in the living room of what used to be Oscar De La Hoya's $2-million training camp home, between two ultimate fighters who think kneeing, elbowing, kicking and punching each other is just another fine afternoon.

Now I believe in offering a little variety on Page 2, but I would have been just fine with Frisbee golf.

For some reason, though, this sport of mayhem has been catching on -- the folks who thought about putting crocodiles in a moat surrounding a cage in the early days and just going with the cage probably kicking themselves now.

It's mixed martial arts, blood and cries for mercy, and I can't stand boxing, thinking it too brutal. But here I am with Ortiz, the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy," who will step barefoot into a steel cage at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday to take on some undefeated Brazilian bully.

"The man you see in front of you right now will not be the man entering that octagon," says Ortiz, and I suspect the man leaving the octagon that night will also be unrecognizable.

IT'S 1 p.m. on Monday, five days until Ortiz's date to get beaten up, and Ortiz is just waking up. His girlfriend is Jenna Jameson, the Queen of Porn, so I understand why he can't get out of bed.

No, he says, he's been sleeping late for the last nine weeks, going to bed at 3 a.m., so he will be at his maximum level of energy and rage at the time gladiators meet in Las Vegas.

I don't get any of this. Never have seen one of these bloodbaths, but will be in Las Vegas after the Lakers' game Wednesday to shadow Ortiz. And Jameson. My job is to cover the story no matter where it goes. Journalism 101.

When I meet Ortiz for the first time, I'm expecting to shake the hands of a big hairy human steroid. But instead I get a guy who talks like a priest in the confessional, a businessman with his own clothing company and even more mighty aspirations.

I could see us going bowling together.

But then an hour later we're moving to a four-car garage, which used to house De La Hoya's boxing ring. The ring has been replaced by an octagon, and Ortiz is now a monster, throwing punch after kick at some poor dummy.

You've got to be a dummy to step into the octagon, but this really is a dummy, trainer Saul Soliz waving a rubber dummy in front of Ortiz and allowing him to punch and kick at will. When the opponent doesn't fight back, this sport isn't all that rough.

"It's like checkers and chess," Ortiz is saying, and as you can see, sometimes these guys get their bells rung.

Aren't you scared at times?

"If I said I was not scared, I'd be lying," Ortiz says. "When I come out to start the fight, you will see -- I will be crying. It's the fear leaving my body."

The guy can be beat. He's 15-5 in his career, and anyone who watches "The Apprentice" knows he was no match for Omarosa, falling into her trap and getting the boot in episode 9. The wife and daughter, who also like to watch "The Biggest Loser," thought he came off as really a nice guy.

"He's cute," the daughter says, if you like a guy with the head the size of Rhode Island, but then right about now the daughter would go for just about any guy.

THE GUY knows how to entertain, no argument there. Early on in his career, he whooped someone, and made like he was pulling the guy into a grave and burying him. As Soliz says, "Love him, hate him, you have to watch him."

Ortiz, 33, puts on a T-shirt after every win, in the beginning adding to his opponent's misery with a crude remark, but in recent years he's toned it down, paying tribute to the military. He's already made two trips to Iraq to visit soldiers.

Now that's the thing about the bruiser -- for every hard edge, there's a soft side.

His parents, he says, were heroin addicts, and he lived in hotels, cars and wherever. There was a time when he was addicted to methamphetamines, moving furniture for a living and going nowhere until given the chance to wrestle.

"Saved me," he says.

In time, his mother wrote him a five-page letter, and all was forgiven. But he went six years without seeing his father, doing so only recently to rid himself of bad dreams.

"I don't have hate for my parents anymore," he says, "I'm a different man. Life is too short to hate."

And with that he leaves, time to grind his sparring mate into the octagon walls, "the fence a weapon," he says, or a safe place to hide if you're on the outside looking in.

JOHN WOODEN showed up late for the ceremony to mark the bronze plaque unveiling in the Coliseum's Court of Honor.

Most parents would understand, of course, dad ready to go, everyone in the car and taking off only to have Wooden's daughter, Nan, announce she had left her purse at home.

Nan is 74, and proud of it, but as you can see some parent's work is never done, although most folks seem to think she will turn out all right as she gets older.

WOODEN RECITED a poem for the folks at the ceremony, and then said, "I can't understand why a basketball guy would be here. But that's fine."

VIN SCULLY, although in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers and in no position to show up late for work until he gets a new deal, took the chance so he could first stop by the Coliseum to congratulate Wooden on his plaque.

Scully, who was honored with a plaque a short time ago, called Wooden "a genius with the ability to inspire."

Well, we'll see. Tickets are still available for the June 13 event in the Nokia Theatre, all the proceeds going to local children's hospitals -- so long as Scully & Wooden show up on time.

Right now it's all riding on Nan.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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