Former UFC champ helps promote Pittsburgh event
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The "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" has landed in Pittsburgh, and he's been welcomed warmly by the city's mixed martial arts fans.
Tito Ortiz, a California native and one of MMA's biggest names, is in town this week to promote the Ultimate Cage Fighting Challenge's Rumble on the Rivers. Saturday night's nine-bout card at Mellon Arena will mark the sport's debut in Western Pennsylvania. MMA was legalized in the state in February.
"They're really excited so far," said Ortiz, who had never been to Pittsburgh before this week. "I've been to a few restaurants and nightclubs, and they're ready for the sport to be here."
Ortiz is best known for being a former light heavyweight champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's largest MMA organization. He held the title from April 2000 to September 2003, successfully defending his belt a record five times in that span. He also starred as one of the coaches on the Spike cable network's popular reality show, "The Ultimate Fighter," in 2006.
His contract with UFC expired last year, but he plans on making a return to MMA this October with a new organization.
In the meantime, Ortiz has been an ambassador for the sport.
"It comes as second nature to me," Ortiz said of promoting the sport. "It's just about raising the awareness of mixed martial arts."
Still Standing Productions, the Pittsburgh-based promotions company putting on Saturday's event, was aware of Ortiz's devotion to MMA and thrilled when he agreed to promote the Rumble on the Rivers.
"Anywhere where there is new groundbreaking for the sport, he's willing to be a part of the event," Still Standing vice president Gregg Holtzman said.
So far this week, Ortiz has been making media appearances, attending signings and spreading the word about Saturday's event. He even threw out the ceremonial first pitch before last night's Pirates-Indians game at PNC Park.
"I've done a lot of pretty cool things," Ortiz said, "but I never threw out a baseball before a game."
Ortiz's whirlwind tour across the Steel City has made for a busy week for both him and the promoters.
"Tito's in high demand this week, but he's helped create a buzz," said Still Standing's president Tiffany Holtzman, Gregg's sister-in-law..
Tiffany said around 4,000 tickets have been sold for the Rumble on the Rivers, and she expects that number to grow to 6,000 by the day of the event.
After getting a taste of the sports culture around Pittsburgh, Ortiz has little doubt that Mellon Arena will be rocking in two days, and his sport will find a home in the Steel City.
"It's a competitive city, especially with football and hockey," Ortiz said. "And I think MMA will add to it."
Ultimate Cage Fighting Challenge's Rumble on the Rivers
@box-list :When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mellon Arena
Who: Main event featuring Rich Clementi vs. Kyle Jensen. Eight other bouts, including a match featuring former Penn State All-American wrestler and NCAA champion Phil Davis.
Tickets: All Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com , or 1-800-745-3000.
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