Tito Ortiz celebrates after win at Bellator 170. Photo Bellator MMA

INGLEWOOD–The fight game is often an unforgiving one and more often than not it’s very, very cruel to a 20-year veteran at the end of their career. That is not the case for Tito Ortiz, who gets to ride off into the sunset as a winner after defeating Chael Sonnen at Bellator 170 inside The Forum on Saturday night.

Ortiz was a happy man sitting up on the dais at the Bellator 170 post-fight press conference and reflected on his career, which began at UFC 13 in May of 1997.

“As an amateur, I fought for no money, I fought for free,” said Ortiz. “That was the beginning of my career. I fought for free. All my friends said ‘you’re crazy.’ I said I want to compete, I want to see how good I can be in this sport. A year and a half later, I was the champion.

“From a kid being on the street with parents who at the time didn’t want to be parents, and to go throughout the things I went through, I’m very lucky to be able to do what I’ve been through. It’s from hard work and dedication I’ve been able to do this dream. Tonight was a dream. Tonight seemed like a movie. It seemed like it wasn’t even real.”

Ortiz, who turns 42 on January 23, retired for the first time after a unanimous decision loss to Forrest Griffin after UFC 143 in 2012. And his post-fight interview that evening was hijacked by Griffin, which left a sour taste in the mouth of the UFC Hall of Fame member. After coming back to the sport and fighting for Bellator, Ortiz went 3-1 with wins over Alexander Shlemenko, Stephan Bonnar and Sonnen. His lone defeat was a submission loss in a Light-Heavyweight title bout against Liam McGeary.

The Huntington Beach, Calif. native got to go out on top with a win in his last fight in front of a hometown crowd, who exploded once Sonnen tapped out. “That’s the way a person’s career should end,” Ortiz said, who then compared his current retirement to the one four years ago.

“This was the way it should have been when I left UFC,” he added. “This is the way it should’ve been. But everything in this world happens for a reason. Everybody, you got to understand, no matter what ups or downs, everything happens for a reason. If that would not have happened the way it happened with the UFC, this would not have happened tonight the way it happened tonight. I would’ve rather it happened this way than the way it happened in 2012 because tonight I’m on cloud nine. My birthday is two days away and I’m very, very thankful I was able to have my son Jacob next to me to enjoy what a champion father can be because I sacrificed so much to give my children what they have.”