Let’s just get this out of the way in the interest of full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of mixed martial arts, in particular the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I’ve followed UFC’s evolution since its infancy in the early ’90s, and I’ve yet to see another fighter command attention the way Tito Ortiz did when he burst on the scene in 1997. Ortiz seemed more than just a fighter. He was a force, one that burrowed under your skin and polarized fans and critics alike. He loved to trash-talk, loved to wear T-shirts specific to his opponent on that night, loved to flip off the opposing corner after a victory. It was all a bit WWE for the UFC. But man, could the dude back it up with his fists.
Flash-forward to now. Ortiz has, for years, been seen by fans as a sellout, a guy who cares more about Hollywood and becoming a businessman than actually stepping in the ring and fighting. And his record of the past few years would seem to indicate they’re right. (He lost his last bout by decision, but most in attendance agree it wasn’t even close.) He’s currently without a UFC contract, and that organization’s president, Dana White, has disputed Ortiz’s ability to continue to go toe-to-toe with the UFC’s best anymore, calling him a “fucking idiot” for good measure.
While his future in the fight game and his intelligence level remain up for debate, Ortiz’s skills as a writer, as evidenced in his new autobiography, This Is Gonna Hurt: The Life of a Mixed Martial Arts Champion, are rookie at best.
Ortiz grew up the child of delinquent parents, and all the evils inherent therein rear their ugly heads: He did drugs (although, it should be noted, never heroin, because he saw how it affected his parents); joined a gang (but never killed anyone, nor wanted to); was homeless for part of his life; turned to stealing; and spent a great deal of time in juvenile hall.
This Is Gonna Hurt: The Life of a Mixed Martial Arts Champion
Tito Ortiz with Marc Shapiro
Simon Spotlight Entertainment
He found his salvation wrestling in high school and college. While he still struggled with drug and alcohol use, he became an extremely successful athlete, and eventually found his way to the UFC and a fame that he still grapples with to this day.
There are painful personal details that may make fans cringe: His mother turned to prostitution to pay the bills; he has barely spoken to his father in more than a decade; he has abandonment issues; and he cheated on his wife for years.
And the falling-out over money with White, who was once Ortiz’s manager, is spelled out in often brutal detail. The real victory of Ortiz’s adulthood, it would seem, is that he fought for more money for UFC fighters when no one else would, and he succeeded—at least, for himself. He’s one of the only UFC fighters to ever earn nearly $1 million for a single fight.
Yet for all the detail, Hurt just feels perfunctory. Ortiz piles up the minutiae, but forgets to tie it all together. It’s the equivalent of laying out all your scrapbook photos on your bed and pointing to them as the mood strikes. But mostly the writing is just lazy. (In one segment, Ortiz goes into great detail about his long hair, and how much he was teased, only to abruptly segue with, “Then there were the drugs.”)
The real fatal blow to the book, however, is the appalling amount of attention paid to Jenna Jameson. Yes, she’s the world’s most famous porn star, and yes, she and Ortiz appear happy together, but Ortiz presents a fawning, detail-obsessive recollection of how they met, how they sat next to each other, how he grabbed her arm, how she thought he was a jerk, how she realized she was wrong about him, how cute she thought he was ... are you getting nauseous? Me too. Worse still is how little detail Ortiz’s ex-wife, Kristin, the mother of his child, gets. She’s portrayed as the long-suffering wife who got lost amid his fame, but never as a person.
Perhaps most discomforting about this book is that Ortiz still appears to be far from defeating his demons. He barely sees his son, and has yet to reconcile with his father. He admits he’s been to therapy, but has developed into such a good liar that it’s had little benefit. He may have had the foresight to brand his image with the UFC, and he appears to be pretty shrewd at marketing, but it’s unclear whether, at the age of 33, he has the smarts to get his own life in order.
Wonder what Dana White would say about that?