UFC featherweight Brian Ortega explains how he went from troubled youth to MMA star

When Brian Ortega spoke with a Harlem youth organization about overcoming tough times in life, he could do so from experience.

The UFC featherweight is approaching the top of the MMA world nearly four years after his UFC debut. Unbeaten in his professional career, Ortega stands one win from securing the UFC’s 145-pound title. He’ll have a chance to win the belt when he faces champion Max Holloway at UFC 226 on July 7 in Las Vegas, but Ortega’s success was far from promised.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Ortega said his family had little money and dealt with many of the struggles facing impoverished families while growing up in Los Angeles. With the help of family, friends and coaches, Ortega was able to keep himself out of the trouble that surrounded him and put himself into position for a successful career.

While in town for UFC 223 at Barclays Center in April, Ortega presented a $2,500 donation from the UFC to Friends of Island Academy, a non-profit organization that helps adolescents who’ve been involved with the criminal justice system at a young age stay on the right track in life.

Newsday spoke with Ortega about what life was like for him growing up, the people along the way who’ve helped him reach his goals and the advice he’d give young people looking to find their way.