Everyone wants to hit the lottery. But numerous studies have shown that on average, winning the lottery doesn’t make people happy - in fact, it often separates people from what makes them happy, which is community.
Brian Ortega grew up in section 8 housing in San Pedro, California. The son of Mexican immigrants, he started martial arts at the age of 5, started learning jiu-jitsu at 13 at The Gracie Academy, and started boxing at 17 with James Luhrsen.
At 19 he started fighting professionally, with an 11-0 amateur record, and entered the UFC at 23, with an 8-0 pro record, having won the RTC and RFA titles. Ortega had seven fights in the UFC, stopping his opponent each time inside the distance, and winning four performance bonuses in the process. He had won the hardest lottery on Earth.
“I felt like I was living life in the fast lane,” explained Ortega to Alexander K. Lee for MMA Fighting. “Especially because my agent, he works double-time. It’s not like fighters where you fight and then you’re good. He’s like, ‘No, champ, check this out. After you fight, you’re allowed to have a one-week break. If you’re not broken, I’ve already set you up to fly to Chicago, I’ve set you up to fly to New York.’ I have this, I have that.
“Obviously, when you’re making money, you’re making moves, it feels good. Living in the fast lane has its great things, it’s a bit lonely but you hear it all the time. It’s lonely at the top. So for me I was like, ‘F*** it, it’s lonely. Hotels are my new home.’ It’s why airplanes and hotels are what I call home. But when it all stops and you have that heartbreak and then you finally see how great it is also on the other side and life is a bit slower, you learn—at least I learned—to appreciate things more.”
It all stopped when then featherweight champion Max Holloway stopped him. Next Ortega was scheduled to fight “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, but tore his ACL. Then the COVID-19 global pandemic. It’s been 20 months since Ortega last fought. He finally meets TKZ in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 38 on Saturday night.
“All this has definitely helped,” he said. “I got to connect with my people again. And they told me, ‘Yeah, we’ve been disconnected on a different level. We’re proud of you so we’re not gonna tell you nothing, we want you to keep winning. But once this happened, we got Brian back.’
“To hear that from everyone, not just one friend or two friends, but from my parents and my sisters, my family and everyone it was like, ‘F***, sorry. I didn’t even see it.’ I was just happy, I was riding this wave and f***, I forgot to look around. I can finally train and get everything better again.”
“I’m excited to go to the gym and see what the hell I’m gonna learn or what I can perfect again or what I can do better than I was doing before, what I can make land better than I did before. What I can do to takedown the way that I did every opponent. This whole thing has just been, ‘Wow, this is what MMA is.’ I’ve only done jiu-jitsu and boxing my entire career and I didn’t really have the most technical side of the standup before. It was just like, ‘You got this, just put your chin down and swing away.’ Let’s hit the mitts so you have cardio.
“But now it’s like, no, check this out, these are called angles, so you don’t get hit. This is called defense so you don’t have to use your warrior mentality. So I was thinking that day when I posted that I was like, I’m so f***ing in love again with everything that it’s like I found my butterflies again.”