Nine months ago, Brian Ortega had his damaged right shoulder sliced open.
His labrum and torn ligaments were reattached to the bone, the cost of doing business in MMA and a heated training session with a Gracie — aka the first family of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
As Ortega endured weeks upon weeks of mending and tedious rehab, he was forced off the mat and thrust into the role of spectator.
The shoulder healed. But Ortega quickly realized the recovery was as much mental as it was physical.
“My dad once told me, ‘The mind is a monster. Either you control the monster or the monster controls you,’” Ortega said.
Fully healthy in every sense, Ortega puts his No. 8 ranking and unbeaten record on the line Saturday against fellow undefeated featherweight Renato Moicano on the undercard of UFC 214 at Honda Center.
While Moicano (11-0-1), 28, must travel nearly 24 hours from Brasilia, Brazil, it’s the second consecutive SoCal fight for Ortega. Nearly 14 months ago, the Lomita resident flattened veteran Clay Guida with a perfectly placed knee with just 20 seconds remaining in their competitive showdown at UFC 199 at The Forum.
“One was the front yard, now this is the back yard,” Ortega (11-0, 1 NC) joked. “It feels cool. Obviously it’s great to train at home and not have to travel and stay in the same time zone. That’s always great.”
Not great is suffering a major injury just as your career is soaring. Ortega had finally worked his way into the top 10 of the UFC 145-pound rankings.
Now he found himself sitting among parents and friends as dozens of others drilled at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance.
“You get into this mode of depression where you almost get jealous of everyone who can train,” he said.
Ortega, 26, found himself with ample time, little outlet for his competitive nature and no income.
The glass was no longer half-full. It was definitely half-empty — though water wasn’t the beverage of choice.
“Whiskey was my water. Just sip…