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Brian Ortega grateful for fight with Clay Guida after near-death surfing experience

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Esther Lin photo

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- For a few moments on a stormy February day, it looked like Brian Ortega might never fight again anywhere, much less at the Forum in Inglewood, just down the road from his Gracie Academy gym in Torrance.

The undefeated featherweight bit off more than he could chew when he attempted to surf 10-to-15-foot waves in nearby Redondo Beach during a major storm.

Ortega, who was out at the beach with a group of friends including Ralek Gracie, ignored the advice of those around him and nearly paid the price with his life.

"I've never been hit that hard with anything in my life," Ortega said at Thursday's UFC 199 media day. "I ended up telling myself ‘you're going to die.' I almost gave up on my life. The waves kept hitting me and I kept getting pushed under."

Eventually, Ortega blacked out. He was rescued by a friend, briefly hospitalized, and home before the night was over.

The next day, Ortega found himself wanting to go right back into the water.

"I was going to surf the next day after I nearly drowned because I don't want to have any fears, you know?" Ortega said. "I'm the kind of guy, win or lose, I mean you can't beat the ocean but I'm going into the Octagon and going to erase my fears. That's something I like to do all the time. I don't like living life in fear."

With that behind him, the Black House fighter looks ahead to one of the most consequential fights of his career, as he meets veteran Clay Guida in UFC 199's FS1 feature bout. The 25-year-old Angeleno admits it's a little weird going up against one of the fighters he most admired when he first started training as a teenager, but chalks it up as a reality of the business.

"He's someone I looked up to," said Ortega. "I still look up to him, and now we're fighting each other. It's a weird thing, but it's part of the sport and in order to keep growing I feel like I have to get past it."

These days, Ortega is playing down his nickname "T-city," in which the "T" stands for triangle.  Four of his 10 career wins are via triangle choke, including his last one, in which he rallied after losing the first two rounds to finish Diego Brandao at UFC 195.

"That name happened when I was a kid," Ortega said. "The fact it's still happening now, it's nothing big. It;s just a name. I'm not searching for the triangle. We always say at the Gracie Academy that we let them choose how the lose. It doesn't matter what choke or if it was a TKO. Whatever way they take the fight, cool, if its a triangle its even better."

Besides, after what Ortega's already been through this year, he's not about to sweat something as minor as which way an MMA fight finishes.

"it's been a crazy year," he said. "I drowned and got brought back to life. It's been crazy to me, it's been insanity, but, a lot of people don't know that and but you know life is a fight, you gotta keep going, and you gotta keep pushing every day."