The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ex-UFC star Tito Ortiz shuns masks and opposes vaccines. He could lose his title as mayor pro tem of a California city.

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz poses onstage in 2018. (Steve Marcus/AP)

Tito Ortiz, a muscular former UFC star, fumed on Instagram two weeks ago that his favorite local burger place had refused to serve him on his “cheat day” unless he wore a mask. Ortiz, who is also the mayor pro tem of Huntington Beach, Calif., asked his more than 340,000 followers to boycott the chain.

“First time all year that I’ve actually been forced to wear a mask, but I’m not wearing a mask,” Ortiz said.

Now, in part due to his repeated refusal to cover his face during the pandemic, the city council is expected to vote on a motion to remove him as mayor pro tem, citing his “unprofessional demeanor” and “poor [judgment].”

“Unfortunately, Mr. Ortiz has failed to perform at a level expected for this position and has demonstrated little commitment to serving in the role with honor and dignity,” read an agenda item for Monday’s meeting submitted by Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr (D) and councilmen Mike Posey (R) and Dan Kalmick (D).

As new variants of the coronavirus spread within the United States, health professionals have suggested that Americans wear two masks. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Ortiz, 46, who has since apologized for the video calling for a boycott of the burger chain, did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post early on Friday.

The rebuke is the latest clash between the star entertainer, who was elected to his hometown’s council last November with the most votes in city history, and other leaders over his refusals to follow pandemic restrictions.

The fighter rose to fame as one of the UFC’s early stars, holding the light heavyweight championship from 2000 to 2003 and later earning a place in the UFC Hall of Fame. He’s also dabbled in professional wrestling and made cameos in movies like “Zombie Strippers” and “Cradle 2 the Grave.” He owns an MMA gym in Huntington Beach and runs an MMA equipment and clothing line.

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Ortiz, a Republican who backed former president Donald Trump and ran on an anti-mask campaign, made the “Make Huntington Beach Safe Again” his official campaign slogan.

But Ortiz’s local political career has been plagued by controversies.

In November, he was so adamant about not wearing a mandatory mask at a city council meeting held in a library that Carr barred him from the building. He attended the meeting on Zoom from his car instead. The next month, a city council member again rebuked him for not masking up during a meeting.

In January, he falsely claimed at a virtual city council meeting that the Jan. 6 Capitol riots by a pro-Trump mob were a “false flag” carried out by antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement. He has also publicly opposed taking the coronavirus vaccine and repeated Trump’s baseless election fraud claims.

Taken as a whole, Kalmick said, Ortiz’s behavior means he should not serve as mayor pro tem. Ortiz’s title is mainly ceremonial, but the person holding the seat is usually expected to become the mayor the following year.

“It’s not one issue, it’s the accumulation and constant distraction of having the Tito show be at the forefront,” Kalmick told The Post. “It’s really the background of Tito. He pushes QAnon conspiracies, he’s anti-mask, he’s anti-vaccine now. It’s a distraction from what we need to do in local government.”

If the council passes the agenda item on Monday, it would give Ortiz a no-confidence vote, and remove his mayor pro tem role, though he would keep his seat on the council.

“His unprofessional demeanor and poor [judgment] have raised concerns among residents, local business owners, and his fellow council members,” according to the proposal. “The Huntington Beach community expects local elected officials to take their governing responsibilities seriously.”

Kalmick said he hopes the council can focus after the vote on issues like recovering from the pandemic and addressing homelessness.

“We need people that are thoughtful and are working from a set of facts that we can all agree on,” Kalmick said. “What Mr. Ortiz has brought to the council has been just distraction.”

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