LAKings.com introduces a new, multi-part summer series in which professional athletes talk about experiencing a Kings game at STAPLES Center.
In this first installment of The Sporting Life, LAKings.com features UFC/MMA legend Tito Ortiz who was in attendance for several Kings playoff games at STAPLES Center courtesy his good friend, Kings left wing Dustin Penner.
Future editions of The Sporting Life will feature a local MLB catcher, a pro golfer, a successful jockey, an up-and-coming drag racer, a local and international soccer star, and an NFL veteran. We also will hear from a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame who provides his unique insights on our sport.
First, here are questions and answers for Ortiz, who is a native of Huntington Beach:
Q: Talk a little bit about your love for hockey?
A: As a kid I watched Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, guys like this, and I came to realize how much of a contact sport it was. I wrestled in high school, I wrestled in college, but what they can do on skates, and how agile, how fast they are, you don't really recognize it until you notice it up close. I don't think there is any other sport in the world that athletes are more agile, fast and strong. Every description you can think of in an athlete a hockey player has, and that's how much respect I have for them. Through the years people have said to me ‘Tito you are one of the “baddest” guys on the planet.’ Yeah but I couldn't do that on the ice. You have to be bred into that and play with your heart.
Q: Can you talk about your friend on the team, Penner?
A: You know Dustin is a really close friend of mine and I talk to him a lot. We give a lot advice to each other on how to prepare and so forth. It's a mental game and all of us are on the same level. It’s just who is more mentally prepared for every match, for every second of the game.
Q: Can you talk about the intensity of a game?
A: I went to one preseason and it was amazing. The fans are just die-hard fans. When you go to a hockey game, these are die-hard fans that are there no matter what. Guys are almost fighting in the audience against the rival teams were playing. I guess that's why they shut the alcohol down so early. It’s just great to see the love the fans have for the Kings themselves. I grew up watching Wayne Gretzky, and I’ve always taken an interest in seeing how these guys do this on skates. We used to go up to Big Bear to go skiing. I had never put skates on before and I tried it there and it was so hard. I couldn't even imagine doing that, having to cut the corners, to pick up speed, just some of the things it comes down to a skater having to do, and then having the hand-eye reaction for the puck itself with the stick is just amazing. These guys are just tremendous athletes and I am very impressed with them. A lot of the players that are on the team now, some of the things that they are doing, I was just in awe. Dustin Brown is amazing, Jeff Carter, Kyle, Colin, Dwight, Trevor, all these guys are really good players. Just as friends, Dustin is such a good hearted guy, it just shows how unique each individual can be if you are able to hang out with them at that level and not the competitive side is something else. He is just a really good guy.
Q: UFC, MMA, is as physical as it comes in the world of sports. How do you think that measures up to a long hockey season?
A: Injuries come about but you try to push your body to the maximum levels. Our bodies can’t handle the constant pressure. They can break. There are so many things that cause the body damage that to do that over and over again. For how many games they play in a season it is just amazing. Like I said my hat goes off for each and every one of them.
Q: Obviously hockey is known for its fighting as well. How would a hockey heavyweight transition to MMA or UFC when their hockey career was over? What would be there biggest challenge going into the steel cage in your world?
A: Once it goes to the ground there’s no ref to pull you apart, once it goes to the ground the game begins. It’s hard to compare sports like that but the mental toughness is what it comes down to. I think for a hockey player to go over to MMA I think they would do very well just because they are good on their feet, they are fast, great hand-eye coordination, they learn super quickly and they are tough as nails. They don't mind getting a tooth knocked out and to continue playing the game, which is why I give so much respect for them. Based on basketball players they get an elbow and they are crying, taken out on a stretcher, nothing matters to them, just trying to make some extra money. You guys are fighting to win, and I think that's what the Kings team really stands for: no matter what it takes, just fight to win.
Q: You own and operate a gym. What if one of the Kings came in over the summer and wanted to go through that type of workout?
A: I think it would be of great quality to them, especially with the wrestling and kickboxing. They want to be fast on their feet and be agile and be able to move laterally quicker. Teaching the fighters to punch right and use the jersey to move them around. There are a lot of little small situations that happen in wrestling that could help the players a lot.
Q: As a businessman, do you watch sports differently now than when you were a kid?
A: 100 percent different. It makes me love it even more, because I understand how hard these guys are working and what they put into it. One thing, as the fans that we don't understand, unless you go to all of the practices, is going in injured and not letting the opponent know that you are hurt. But still going in and giving it your all. When you leave the stadium it is not knowing that you won or lost but that you gave it your all.
Special thanks to Dustin Penner and Alex Sale