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Before moving to Huntington Beach as a young teenager, Ortiz said he was raised with four older brothers in Santa Ana — "Corner of Bristol and McFadden; you know where that is? You know how bad that is?" he asked.
He said his estranged father, Sam, and mother, Joyce, were then "hooked on heroin," and he spent a childhood "in and out of juvenile hall," while clinging to a Santa Ana street gang.
"Stealing out of cars, fights, hoodlum stuff," Ortiz said. "I was dying for attention as a kid. I fell into wrestling. I was good at it. Wrestling gave me that attention. It saved me."
Four years after moving to Huntington Beach, Ortiz became a CIF Southern Section semifinalist for Huntington Beach High in 1992. The next year, he won the Southern Section Division I championship at 189 pounds, winning MVP among the meet's higher weights, and capped his season with a sixth-place finish at the state meet.
Again, however, Ortiz found himself at a crossroads. His mother told him to move out of her home when he turned 18, he said, and he skipped enrolling in college in favor of working for a moving company while living with one of his brothers.
"I got hooked on crystal meth," Ortiz said.
Ortiz said he vividly remembers going out for drinks one Saturday night in 1994 at the Rhino Room, where he ran into Golden West College wrestling Coach Paul Herrera, a former junior college state champion who asked Ortiz what he was doing with his life.
"Nothing," was Ortiz's response. "I remember going home that night, looking into the mirror. I looked terrible. I was a lost soul.
"Coach had asked me about wrestling for him, about getting some financial aid. Monday morning, I called into work … and quit my job."
In 1995 and 1996, Ortiz was the state junior college wrestling champion at 190 pounds, and a year later he joined UFC. He specializes in a ground-and-pound style, a fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the mat using a takedown or throw, obtaining a dominant position, and then striking the opponent as often as possible. Ground and pound is also used as a precursor to attempting submission holds.