It appears former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin has indeed taken over coaching responsibilities for Tito Ortiz on the 11th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
A photo has surfaced showing the same TUF 11 set fans saw in the season debut this past Wednesday, however the image reveals a significant change to the facility’s backdrop.
“The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was pitted against longtime foe Chuck Liddell on the most recent edition of the popular reality series, however rumors swirled that he was unable to complete filming at some point during the middleweight tournament.
MMAJunkie.com first reported the possibility of the former high school math teacher subbing in for Ortiz, however couldn’t confirm when or the exact reason Ortiz bowed out.
Last month, FightersOnly claimed Ortiz was pulled from his highly anticipated trilogy against Liddell, not because of an injury, but something that will “significantly impact his future as a fighter.”
UFC president Dana White quickly refuted the reports by Tweeting, “We are doing [Randy] Couture vs. [Rich] Franklin not Chuck [Liddell]. Nothing happened to Tito. Tito and I are cool,” hours after the news broke.
Ortiz later revealed that a nasty bout of the flu was the mysterious illness that had kept him sidelined, and not the surgically repaired back he just had corrected in October 2008.
“Nice to be home. They put 6 bags of fluid in me. I’m better now. I lost 15lb. I [thought] I had swine flu but I didn’t. Just a really bad flu,” Ortiz posted on his Twitter.
The former champs would serve as the opening act for the blockbuster heavyweight title unification bout between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin at UFC 116 on July 3rd.
Throughout the chaos, White & Co. have vehemently denied that Liddell vs. Ortiz III is off, with Liddell confirming his “tune-up fight” against Ortiz on last Monday’s TUF 11 conference call.
The organization will have to announce something soon after they confirmed Thursday that Vancouver will in fact host UFC 115. Tickets for the show are expected to go on sale within the coming weeks, however no fights have been announced, including the card’s main event.
Ortiz’ future has never been less certain, however the 35-year-old kicked the conspiracy theory door wide open with his Tweets last month:
“If things couldn’t get worse. They just did! [expletive]!!!! I want to thank all my fans for your support!”
“Thanks for all the support. Thinking that life couldn’t get any harder? It just did! Another challenge that god has given me! WOW..”
“Jenna [Jameson] and I are fine. I guess business is business.”
“Everybody will see it all!”