It’s been almost two years since Brian Ortega’s brutal TKO loss to Max Holloway and as he prepares to step back into the Octagon for the first time he says that the lengthy layoff has helped him learn some valuable lessons, recharge his batteries and refocus ahead of his headlining fight with The Korean Zombie on Saturday night.
“I feel at peace now, so it’s definitely helped,” Ortega told mmafighting.com. “All this has definitely helped. Before I felt like I was living life in the fast lane. 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*ck 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 wasn’t until the Holloway loss that he was able to see what he’d been missing.
“I got to connect with my people again [after the Holloway fight]. 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*ck, sorry. I didn’t even see it.’ I was just happy, I was riding this wave and f*ck, I forgot to look around. I can finally train and get everything better again.”
The defeat also proved to be a wake-up call that it was time to rediscover his passion for the sport and evolve his fight game.
“When you’re in a relationship for a long time, you learn to hate whoever you’re with and I think it’s normal. I think everyone who’s been there for over 15 years can relate to me. Or anyone who’s been in any type of relationship with anything or anyone. It just comes a point where it’s just too much work or you get too comfortable with it or whatever, you don’t get those butterflies anymore. Like the whole, ‘I’m excited to keep doing this.’
“I’ve been training since I was five years old. So for me I’ve had a 25-, 26-year relationship with it. When you’ve known nothing but punching men and punching bags and training in jiu-jitsu and MMA. I started MMA at 15, I had 11-0 amateurs by the time I was 19 and then I went pro and had 15 fights there. I had two surgeries and all these things. I was always involved in it and it just, for some reason getting closer to my fight with Max I fell out of love with it. It turned more into a job than what I do that I love. The fact that it is a job, it makes you go, ‘Dude, you’re grown up. Do the job.’ But finally, it took this loss to go, ‘Listen, you’ve been getting away with all your other stuff but it’s not working anymore. Now you need to better all this.”
“And the reason I didn’t want to better everything else was because I was too stuck on my pride. I didn’t want to go and do wrestling practice because I know I would suck at it. I didn’t want to go do this because, like anyone who starts something that they’ve never done at a beginner level, you feel vulnerable, insecure, or you don’t know how to do it. And for me, I was like, man, I don’t want that feeling.
“The whole world thinks I’m the man right now. I think I’m the man right now, I’m winning all these fights. I don’t want to feel like I suck.”
Ortega admits that there have been some large holes in his game and he’s become excited to now round out his skill-set and become a more complete mixed martial artist heading into his next fight.
“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*cking in love again with everything that it’s like I found my butterflies again.”