The rumors were true. Tito Ortiz has signed a “ground-breaking” deal with Affliction to become the highest paid fighter in MMA history, according to Ortiz. The deal could be announced tomorrow at Affliction’s press conference for Affliction II “Day of Reckoning.” Ortiz also confirmed that his first opponent will be Renato “Babalu” Sobral.
“I guarantee you that my contract will be like no other,” said Ortiz, stopping short of giving away the specifics of a deal that could include responsibilities outside of the ring. “It will be a ground-breaking record contract for sure, without a doubt. There’s so much money to be made right now in mixed martial arts and it’s all about the fighters trying to make that money. It’s going to be a long-term deal where I put my heart and soul into the company and help build them. That’s something I’m interested in doing. They’re going to bring me on, not just as a fighter but also doing some of the back work also.”
“Babalu has been in my crosshairs. He’s already been talking smack, saying if he sees me he’s going to kick my ass, but right on if he keeps thinking that. He’ll get his face caved in sooner or later. I know Frank Shamrock is another person who’s been opening up his mouth. He beat me the last time we fought and I think that would be a great revenge fight where I kick his ass and finally shut him up. As time goes we’ll see who Affliction signs besides me. I don’t know. I might even go up to heavyweight if the bigger pay days are there.”
Tito elaborated on how his relationship with Donald Trump was a factor.
“We talked a little bit about [Trump getting involved in MMA] when I was on the show. I know he did a couple things with WWE and a few boxing events and after the show he said, ‘One day, I may be interested in getting into your business and I want to sign you’ and that’s pretty much where it was until he signed with Affliction and once he signed with Affliction I got a personal call from him saying he was going to come to my last fight in the UFC and support me and after my fight was over he walked up to me and said, ‘Tito you may have lost tonight, but you won in my eyes no matter what. I just signed with Affliction and we want to sign you next.’ He sees the power that I have and he’s going to respect me for it.”
“Mr. Trump sees it as a business and no more than that. He understands that and there’s nothing personal to it at all and that’s what the UFC has problem with. The UFC takes the work they do very, very personal and in any business once you let your personal feelings get involved with it everything goes to [crap]. Mr. Trump is a strict businessman who respects the fighters. This is going to be one of the biggest losses [the UFC] has ever had to date and one of the worst mistakes they’ve ever made.”
The big question now is what can Tito Ortiz do for Affliction in terms of pay-per-view buys. Well, if you ask Tito, apparently quite a bit.
“I know they want to make some money and I know they got over 100,000 pay-per-view buys on their first show and with me it’s guaranteed to be over 500,000 pay-per-view buys just by the number of fans that are going to follow me no matter where I go so they’re going to get there money’s worth just in pay-per-view no matter what.”
And that’s really what having Tito on their team boils down to—dollars and cents. You’d have a hard time arguing that Tito is still a top five or even top ten light heavyweight at this point. But what Tito may be lacking in the ring, he certainly excels outside of it. He’s one of few that has consistently proven that he can sell pay-per-views, and that’s exactly what Affliction is hoping for and desperately needing.
What’s concerning though is if this really is a “ground-breaking” deal? What has Affliction sacrificed in order to get him? Are they paying him more money than he will ever be able to earn back for them? I hope Affliction isn’t banking on Tito drawing 500,000 pay-per-view buys just because he’s on the card. They’ll likely be in for a rude awakening if that’s the case.
Tito may be one missing piece of the puzzle, but he’s not the only one. A television deal is the gaping wide hole in their path to success, and Trump has the connections to make it happen. The man who produced his reality TV show “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, is supposedly a fan of Affliction and produced The Contender Asia: Muay Thai, which is airing now on Versus. It seems like the perfect fit. One can only assume talks have taken place. If not, and Affliction can’t find their way to television, not even Tito Ortiz is going to be able to save them.
For now, signing Tito is good reason for Affliction to celebrate, but it doesn’t come without the promise of answering one of the industry’s biggest questions—is one of MMA’s biggest stars as valuable without the UFC as they were with it?
We’ll find out soon enough.
[UPDATE 8/6/08 8:24PM ET] – The SI.com story we linked to in this post was updated from “Tito Ortiz signs with Affliction” to “Tito Ortiz nears deal with Affliction.” I’ve changed the title to accurately reflect the changes. More details here.