Ortiz recalled growing up in Santa Ana, Calif. at age 5 with parents addicted to heroin.
“I started seeing this and it was a dead-end street. My father lost his job, my mother would do whatever she could to help their habit, and so forth,” Ortiz said.
Eventually, after 16 years together, his parents split up and he stayed with his stepfather and mother.
“I was hanging out with some of my friends when a rival gang pulled up. They said, ‘Where are you from?’ All of a sudden, bang, bang, bang, gunshots go off,” Ortiz said. “You hear the bullets hit the cement. It’s a very scary moment at the age of 12.”
Ortiz said his stepfather gave him $800 at the age of 18 and pushed him out of the house. He used methamphetamine until he was 20.
“All of a sudden I found myself doing the same thing,” Ortiz said. “It seems like every summer came around, when wrestling was over, I did catch myself doing the same thing.”
But Ortiz ran into a wrestling coach who helped him see the light.
“I had an out-of-body experience. I was 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, sucked up, bags in my eyes. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t know who I was,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz got his life together. During his freshman year in college he was state junior college champion in his weight class. Ortiz had dreams about being a high school wrestling coach.
In 1997, Ortiz entered the exciting new world of ultimate fighting. At the time he had to fight for free, since he was still an amateur. Ortiz defeated his opponent in 22 seconds.
Soon, Ortiz said, he was a celebrity when he returned home.
“All of a sudden, all the attention I was dying for as a kid, I was getting in wrestling,” Ortiz said.
Eventually Ortiz received his associate degree and didn’t use drugs again. His fighting career progressed (his next bout will be Nov. 17 in Newark, N.J.). The clothing line he began with $500 is now a million-dollar business.