Combate Americas: Can Ortiz and Del Rio Silence the Critics?

Alberto del Rio and Tito Ortiz
Former WWE champion Alberto "El Patron" faces off with former UFC light-heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz. Photo: Gabriel Gonzalez

Both former UFC champion Tito Ortiz and former WWE champion Alberto Del Rio have promised a battle at Combate Americas’ first foray into PPV and the winner will get the unique honor of taking a trophy from the other.

It is only natural at first glance to raise an eyebrow at Saturday’s fight between Tito Ortiz and Alberto Del Rio.  You have Ortiz, a UFC legend whose accolades stand among the best in the sport’s history, taking on Del Rio who is best known for his time as one of the stars of the WWE rather than the fourteen MMA fights he had nearly a decade ago.

Mention your thoughts to either man, that this may be a cash grab or an elaborate exhibition, and you will be met with a face of sheer disrespect at the notion.  And why wouldn’t they feel this way?  Del Rio, at 42, has left his home and family in Texas for several weeks to have a full training camp in Phoenix to prepare for his first fight since 2010.  Ortiz, whose history of injuries is well-documented, is putting his body through another camp himself and entering the cage for all the risks that entails.

So who is Alberto Del Rio, the former WWE superstar who is stepping up to face the former UFC champion?  Born José Alberto Rodriguez, Del Rio is the son of noted Mexican pro-wrestler Dos Caras and has several relatives all involved in Lucha Libre.  Del Rio would go on to join the family business, donning the moniker Dos Caras Jr. and even taking the Dos Caras title himself for a time.  In 2010, he would compete in the WWE where he took on the now familiar name of Alberto Del Rio and go on to become the first Mexican-born WWE champion in company history as well as win the World Heavyweight Championship.  In more recent years, he’s wrestled under the name Alberto “El Patron” and last year competed in a match alongside UFC vet Erik “Goyito” Perez.

As his career developed, pro-wrestling helped him in MMA and vice-versa.  He was part of the Mexican national team for Greco-Roman Wrestling and sought to compete at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney but the country did not send a team that year.  Del Rio would go on to use his amateur wrestling skills in mixed martial arts and would use the moniker of Dos Caras Jr as he embarked on his pro career.  The name followed him as he competed in Japan in promotions such as DEEP and PRIDE in the 2000’s where he would have fights against the likes of Mirko Cro Cop, Kazuhiro Nakamura, and Brad Kohler.  As his reputation in MMA grew, it helped him gain opportunities in pro-wrestling where he would went on to find great success.

Tito Ortiz quite literally already has his place in history.  A UFC Hall-of-Famer who defended the light-heavyweight title five times, he has officially reached the place where he is both a part of the history and also an active participant.  ESPN released an entire documentary devoted to his and Chuck Liddell’s rivalry and the impact it had on the sport of mixed martial arts.  But rather than ride off into the sunset with a final showcase in Combate Americas, Ortiz has been vocal that he plans for this to be the beginning of another run.  Since announcing his comeback, he’s also mentioned interest in setting up a rematch with current Bellator double-champion Ryan Bader and stating he could defeat current UFC champion Jon Jones.

One of the biggest questions fans had was about the decision to put the fight on pay-per-view after it was widely reported that his rubber match against Liddell under Golden Boy Promotions fell far below expectations.  Ortiz told Cageside Press that the trilogy with Liddell was hurt in part by the UFC interfering with DirecTV airing the fight on pay-per-view and that it drastically hurt the final numbers.

“Here’s the big difference:  This is an opportunity that we’re on DirecTV.  We will be on DirecTV.  UFC made sure that the Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz fight was not on DirecTV.  It wasn’t on demand either because of UFC.  UFC is with ESPN now, they have no control over DirecTV.  DirecTV is going to back us.  I’m very thankful for DirecTV.  I’ve always worked hard with DirecTV when I was with UFC.  Now they’re going to give us the respect value to come in as a pay-per-view for DirecTV.”

The most unique part of the match is the trophy that will be awarded to the winner.  Rather than a unique title belt from Combate Americas, the two have agreed to put one of their respective world championship belts on the line.  If Del Rio wins, he will get one of Ortiz’s UFC title belts.  Vice-versa, Ortiz will get one of Del Rio’s WWE title belts if he is victorious.

By far, the fight is the biggest match-up ever made in the short history of Combate Americas.  The company has never had a star of the caliber of Tito Ortiz and the possibility of Del Rio competing under their banner has floated around for several years.  The pay-per-view event will also see Melissa Martinez competing for the inaugural women’s championship and the undercard will feature fighters like Gaston Reyno, Levy Marroquin, UFC vet Joby Sanchez, and pro-wrestler turned fighter “Sexy Star” Dulce Garcia.  But all eyes will be on the main event to see if the two men involved can deliver the show that they have both have proudly promised.