- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) - While Tito Ortiz embarked on a lengthy metaphorical monologue about lions, jackals and Christopher Walken, Chael Sonnen made snoring sounds into his microphone on the other side of the Bellator 170 dais.

Sonnen drew laughs, as usual. Ortiz looked furious, again as usual.

“You’ve dug your grave, man,” Ortiz said to his opponent in the main event of Bellator 170, likely the biggest event in the mixed martial arts promotion’s history.

Sonnen (28-14-1) and Ortiz (18-12-1) meet Saturday night at the Forum in Inglewood. The bout, which Ortiz claims is his last, is the apogee of Bellator’s penchant for matching up well-known fighters past their primes and relying on their fame to generate bountiful cable television ratings on Spike.

The new year features an expansion in strategy by Bellator, which is also pursuing free-agent fighters in the primes with renewed zeal and becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to the UFC.

But Bellator still loves a Legends Tour-style spectacle, and they don’t get much bigger than the 41-year-old Ortiz, the longtime UFC light heavyweight champion, ostensibly ending his career against the 39-year-old Sonnen, the motor-mouthed former UFC title contender.

Good thing it’s not a speaking contest, because no athletic commission would sanction this mismatch.

While they promoted their bout Thursday, Sonnen’s consummate verbal dexterity reduced his malapropism-prone opponent into a shaking rage with several sharp barbs, including a dirty comment about Ortiz’s ex-girlfriend, former adult film star Jenna Jameson.

“I’m a puppet master,” Sonnen said. “I’m a genius. That’s why I show up in a $20 T-shirt, and he shows up in a dead guy’s suit. One of has to work harder than the other one at it. One of us is a natural.”

Sonnen’s showmanship hasn’t dimmed during a three-year absence from the cage since his final UFC fight and his subsequent suspension after failing a doping test.

After his surprise signing with Bellator late last year, Sonnen immediately set his sights on Ortiz, hoping to fulfill a long-burning desire to beat one of the world’s most famous fighters. Sonnen beat Ortiz in a wrestling match in college, but Ortiz climbed quickly to the UFC’s heights while Sonnen toiled through years of low-level competition.

Tito did a very good job and really helped the industry and the organization,” Sonnen said. “My contention from the beginning of this is that I beat him when we were kids, and I would have stopped him from being the UFC champion. I would have stopped him from being in the Hall of Fame. … I told everyone I knew I could beat Tito. It took me 20 years to get here, and we’re all going to find out together Saturday.”

While Sonnen’s MMA career peaked in his 30s with two memorable fights against Anderson Silva, Ortiz has wound down dramatically from the heights of his famed fights against Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. He has fought just once since November 2014, and he has won only three of his 12 fights over the past decade.

But Ortiz earned an unshakable fan base in his native Southern California during MMA’s pioneer days, and they’re expected to turn out in force to watch his possible farewell fight.

After the visceral way in which Sonnen got under Ortiz’s skin during their promotional appearances, Bellator viewers know that the animosity is not an act by two cagey veterans.

“I dislike this man,” Ortiz said. “He’s not even a man. He’s a child. He’s said some personal things about me and lit a fire under (me) like no other. This guy thinks he can come in after eight weeks of camp, after three years off, and compete with me? I’m going to hurt him. I’m not looking for a submission. I’m going to dominate him. I have something to pay back.”

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