It can be hard to find a way back out when a person heads down the wrong path in life, especially if they fall into the trap of becoming entrenched in gang culture, where the threat of death or prison always looms large over their heads.
Some fighters know this only too well and can ruefully speak from first-hand experience, but for them, there was an escape route from the chaotic life they were leading, with mixed martial arts proving to be their salvation.
In this article we’ll look at 10 such cases, exploring the often bleak and tragic circumstances that led to their decision to join a gang in the first place, the trouble it caused them, and how pursuing a career in MMA helped turn their lives around and lead them all the way to the UFC.
UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz rose to become one of the most famous fighters ever to compete in the sport, which is quite an achievement when you consider his childhood.
Both of his parents were heroin addicts, so Ortiz was fending for himself on the streets of Santa Ana, California, from an early age.
As young as five years old, Ortiz had already drunk beer and smoked cigarettes, and by nine he’d joined one of the region’s most notorious gangs, ‘F-Troop,’ after going through their initiation beating which saw him repeatedly sucker-punched by other members to prove his toughness.
According to Ortiz in his biography, ‘This Is Going To Hurt,’ he was soon getting into trouble doing “hoodlum stuff,” and in the years that followed he robbed houses and cars, fought rival gangs, tried “just about every drug there was to do except heroin,” and was “in and out of juvenile hall.”
After one of Ortiz’s friends was shot and killed next to him in a drive-by shooting, his mother moved with him to Huntington Beach, and with the police cracking down on gang culture in that area, Ortiz would turn his attention to wrestling and slowly but surely, he moved away from his troubled past and set out on a new path in mixed martial arts that would lead to him becoming a UFC champion.