HUNTINGTON BEACH, California – Brian Ortega it felt good, as if his career and life had gone to the next level. It was December 2018 and Ortega was invited to a party at the home of actor Robert Downey Jr. in Los Angeles.
Sure, a few weeks earlier, Ortega had lost to Max Holloway in a UFC featherweight title fight. But he looked like a warrior in defeat. Plus, Hollywood was calling. There he was, a boy who grew up in San Pedro, the heart of Los Angeles’ rough Harbor Area, chatting with Iron Man and Jamie Foxx.
A day later, Ortega came back to reality. There was heavy rain in southern California, normally dry. His family’s home in Torrance was flooded. And Ortega, the eldest son, was called into action. His father, Martín, told Ortega that he had to crawl under the house and drain the water line.
“[Algunos] of my fears [son] spiders, darkness and claustrophobia, “Ortega told ESPN.” So imagine yourself under the house. And the house is full of water. So you’re breathing, and the wood had all these little spiders. “
Ortega reached the main line and unplugged it, only for the dirty water from the toilet to cascade into his face.
“So I went from being Mr. Hollywood thinking, ‘I’m the f —‘ … [a] The reality, you’re not, “Ortega said.” Pops is there, like, ‘Get to work.’ You’re not a sh —. And I was like, okay. It was a good humbling experience, a reminder. “
The anecdote is a perfect embodiment of Ortega’s life, full of ups and downs, successes and failures.
Ortega is on the rise again. On Saturday, he challenges Alexander Volkanovski for the UFC featherweight title at the main event of UFC 266 in Las Vegas. After Holloway’s loss and a knee injury that kept him out of the Octagon for nearly two years, Ortega bounced back last October by beating “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung for another shot at the belt.
Regardless of whether he wins or loses this weekend, Ortega understands that he is on a long road. He has begun to accept the turbulence and is willing to accept the blows as long as his family, specifically his 16-year-old brother, Chris, do not have to bear the same burdens.
“It is the child that I wish [yo] be, “Ortega said about his brother.” Good-hearted. It never got cold with this world. He’s never seen things that made him do stupid things. It has a mind of its own. He speaks for himself, he has a big heart. This kid is amazing. It’s everything I wish I was when I was young. I look at it and it’s like, this could have been me. “
ERA 2008. Ortega was 17 years old and had just learned to drive. For the first time, Martin let his son take the family’s prized truck, a shiny new Ford F-150 with silver wheels. Martín doubted, but Ortega pleaded and his father relented.
That night, near his home, Ortega swerved when the car in front of him came to a sudden stop. The Ford F-150 ran off the road, collided with a tree and crashed into a brick wall, almost ending up plowing into a nearby house. Ortega, who was not injured, jumped out of the truck and began cursing the other driver. The other driver accused Ortega of being drunk or high. Ortega declined to comment on whether he was under the influence and there is no record of police intervention.
When the anger subsided, Ortega realized what he had done. His father’s “dream truck” was destroyed. Ortega ran out of the place. Not because he believed the police were on their way, he said, but because he feared what Martín would do to him when he found out.
“In fact, he didn’t want to go home,” Ortega said. “I was like, ‘I’m not coming home anymore, man. I don’t want to see you.’
About four hours later, Ortega returned home and, instead of an outburst, Martín’s reaction was one of relief because his son was fine.
“The car was completely destroyed, but what worried me was my son, who did not break any bones or get injured because many things can happen in a car accident,” said Martín.
It was a lesson, Ortega said, but it didn’t change the way he approached life at the time. He thought he had gotten away with it and said he remained reckless during those late teenage years.
But although the extent of his father’s kindness was not established at the time, Ortega never forgot it. He always knew he had to do better. Last November, Ortega bought Martín an upgraded Jeep Gladiator and gave it to him as a surprise with a mariachi band playing in the background. Martín was stunned. He almost cried when he saw the rigged truck.
“It was a very powerful emotion,” Martin said. “I almost burst into tears, but seeing all the people there, I restrained myself. But it was like the happiness I feel when he wins a fight. It is indescribable, but you feel it in your heart, something great and beautiful that I have never experienced before. “.
Martín grew up in poverty, unable to pay for shoes. He moved to California, initially as an undocumented immigrant, seeking a better life for his family: his wife Rose, then two daughters, then Brian, and now Chris.
“He has given everything [a la familia]”said Ortega.” And he just takes the shorter end of the stick. So it was time to give Pops his moment. I got him the best of the best when it comes to the type of car. “
It is a motivation that inspires Ortega through each day and each fight. He desperately wants to give back, and not just his father. Ortega started a nonprofit organization in 2018 to help children obtain scholarships to train in martial arts and other sports. Downey Jr., a huge MMA fan, heard about the Brian Ortega Foundation and donated $ 50,000 to get it started.
“Everything that [Ortega] he wants to do is help, “actor Freddie Prinze Jr. told ESPN.” It’s wild.
Ortega said he wants others to “break the cycle,” which he was able to do: overcome problems with gangs, alcohol and drugs while growing up in San Pedro.
“I broke that cycle in the craziest way, because I followed my dreams and I am becoming something of myself,” said Ortega. “So if I can do that, I know these kids can too.”
One of those “children” is Chris, although he had a different childhood than Brian. Chris, the youngest of four children, grew up in the suburbs of Torrance, not in the industrial port city of San Pedro. He doesn’t run with gang members; instead, he goes to North Hollywood for acting lessons. Ortega is proud to help Martín and Rose raise Chris.
“Chris knows that his brother is a good example for him in all aspects: fighting and persevering towards his goals, because life is not easy,” said Martín. “Not a single career or sport is easy. You face many obstacles and you can fall many times, but you have to get up, regain your self-esteem and move on. And he learned that from Brian.”
Even with different upbringings, fighting is still a part of every Ortega man’s life. Martín grew up a huge boxing fan in Sonora, Mexico, but never had the time or money to train. When Ortega was 5 years old Martín took him to his first kickboxing lesson, and when Ortega was 14 years old Martín asked for a loan to enroll Ortega in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with Rener and Rorion Gracie. Now, Ortega is advising Chris in a similar way.
When Ortega had a role in the movie “The Tax Collector,” he took Chris on set to show him what he was like. Chris met actor Shia LaBeouf and others. And when Ortega was invited to Downey Jr.’s house for the Christmas party, Chris joined him. At one point, Chris was sitting on a couch between Downey Jr. and Foxx, although Chris didn’t know who Foxx was.
“I joined the acting world for a bit because of him,” Ortega said. “It inspired me to do it. … And now that I’m here a little bit – I put my foot in the door – I can learn about this industry. I can also walk. [a Chris] through this to the best of my abilities until you are an adult and can go through it yourself. “
ORTEGA HAD the opportunity to go to Chris’s high school homecoming party last year. He used the celebration as a teaching moment. Ortega looked around the room and told Chris about all the groups gathered. He told her that committing to some of them, and the activities they participate in, could jeopardize her future.
“Everything about how to read a room, I was teaching him,” Ortega said. “I say, ‘Look how I can be … having the best time and still not doing all these things.’ I still don’t have to drink, I still don’t have to smoke, I don’t have to do drugs yet. I say, ‘You can be that guy. ‘”
Chris initially wanted to be a fighter too, like his brother. He is still training in martial arts and has participated in an amateur boxing match, but at the moment he is not pursuing it as a career. However, Chris is always close to Ortega during fight weeks, even doing open training with him in front of the media and fans before a scheduled fight with Holloway at UFC 226 in July 2018. The evolution of the Ortega men From Martin to Brian and Chris, he doesn’t get lost in the teenager.
“It’s a blessing, because I have my dad, my brother,” Chris said. “They have been through a lot. I have a lot of respect for them, because they have been through a lot. Let them tell me these stories, these life lessons, [es] all for me”.
On Saturday, Ortega could very well take the UFC featherweight title home to Torrance. He seemed like the best version of himself by dominating Jung last fall. He’s one of the most dangerous submission artists in the UFC, those lessons with the Gracies have long paid off, and he’s evolving as a ustriker, with the power to end fights at his fingertips.
Being the best in the world is surely the goal, but for Ortega it doesn’t end there. Unlike when he was younger, “T-City” thinks long term. You are thinking about how to continue to improve the life of your family and yours.
“Grew up in [San] Pedro, “Chris said.” He grew up everywhere. On [el Harbor Area], there were many problems. It’s hard to find a hero when there is nothing but villains. “
Fortunately for Chris, he doesn’t have to look too far for his own heroes.
Ortega has a vision of what a beautiful future would look like for the two brothers. The popular series “Entourage” featured main character Vincent Chase, an A-list Hollywood star, and his gang, which included Chase’s brother Johnny “Drama” Chase, an unfortunate C-list actor fighting for succeed.
“I can be ‘Drama’ and [Chris] He can be the main character, “Ortega said.” He will just take care of me. He will be Vinnie Chase and I will be ‘Drama. his team”.
And Ortega doesn’t mind fighting in a cage or getting a little dirty under a flooded house to get there.