During the course of interviewing MLL players, I discovered they have a variety of professions in the offseason. Most of these professions are related to lacrosse in the form of coaching and conducting camps and clinics. Other notable jobs are in the financial sector, strength and conditioning, corporate security, and prison guard. Our guest today, John Ortolani, has perhaps the most unique non-MLL job. John is an MMA fighter.
Congratulations on your recent first round win. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions John.
You have a pretty unique story behind getting into the MLL. Could you share that will us and give a little background into your pre-MLL playing days?
I played a lot of different sports growing up. Always staying active either in organized sports or for fun but always competitive in everything I did. In the middle of my college career I started playing more in the offseason. Playing in leagues and tourneys whenever I could and over that time I faced some of the top faceoff men from teams all over and began to see that I could compete with and beat some of the best.
Now the question that everyone would like me to ask? When did you decide that you wanted to be a fighter? Why not lacrosse a player?
I didn’t decide to start seriously training for MMA until my senior year in college. I first decided to train Muay Thai in the offseason to stay in shape for lacrosse. I had taken Kung Fu as a kid and wrestled a little in high school. A good friend of mine had already been fighting for a while and asked me to come down to the gym and help him get ready for his upcoming fight against a good wrestler.
I fell in love with the sport. I began training whenever I had some free time and soon after that I took a fight on two days notice to fill in for an injured fighter. I won my first fight in 47 seconds and was hooked. I love the fact that it is the most raw form of competition out there. If I win its because of the skills I have and the hard work I put into it. If I lose there’s no one else to blame.
That is also the reason why I was drawn to faceoffs in lacrosse as well. It is a one on one battle for the ball. My technique, hard work and determination will decide if I win or lose a draw. I will continue in both sports as long as possible.
Have you found that coaches and GMs shy away selecting you because of your in ring career or do they see it as an advantage?
Coaches have never expressed a concern for my MMA career to me. Some love it. The work ethic and mentality required for fighting in a cage has helped me tremendously in becoming the lacrosse player I am today.
What drew you to being a faceoff specialist? What do you enjoy most about facing off?
I was drawn to faceoffs because of the grinding physical aspect of the position. When I started playing I didn’t have a good stick at all. Facing off was a great way for me to get on the field while continuing to improve my stick skills. I fell in love with the one on one technical aspect of it. So many little techniques are happening in a short amount of time. It’s like a physical chess match and whether I win or lose depends on how hard I work at those little techniques.
Who are the players you look forward to facing the most? Who gives you the most challenge?
I always look forward to playing against the Beast. Greg [Gurenlian] and I have had great battles even back before I was in the league. I was injured for part of last season and missed both games against the Lizards so I’m really looking forward to getting the opportunity to face Greg again. Playing against the best always elevates my game.
What is a season like for a faceoff specialist in the MLL?
It’s a grind. Strength training, sprints, technical drilling and live reps during the week wears you down over a season. Then every game is a battle. Constant collisions and grinding with sprints in between. Most teams only dress one faceoff man so there are no plays off. That’s one of my favorite aspects of the position, embracing the grind.
How do the other players react to you? Are you just one of the guys or is there some intimidation?
I would say I’m treated like one of the guys. I’m not a very intimidating person in general. Players have been more interested in the MMA stuff than they are intimidated.
You have been a fan favorite in both Boston and Rochester. A lot of that has to do with the fact you make yourself accessible to fans. You have even gone to some pretty extreme measures to sign autographs (I met John when Rochester played Chesapeake in St. Petersburg, Florida when he climbed a tarp to sign autographs for kids). Care to share some of these?
My favorite is going back to Boston and climbing the wall at Harvard stadium to meet the fans in the crowd. A lot of friends and family come to the games in Boston and it’s nice to see them up close as well.
Why do you go to such extremes to get to know the fans?
The fans are the ones that make it possible for us to do what we do. Without them there would be no MLL. When the fans have a great experience they will keep coming back and keep the league and the game growing.
After the 2014 All-Star game in Boston I climbed into the stands to sign autographs and met a young player who was from my hometown. I sat down with him and took off my game cleats, signed them and let him have them. He will be a fan for life and hopefully pass on his passion for lacrosse to others in the future.
Who are some of your biggest influences in and out of the sport?
I’ve had a lot of influences in the sport. Peter Inge was the faceoff man for the Cannons when I started playing and gave me an idea of what I wanted to aim for. I’ve worked a lot with Nolan Godfrey and Chris Marmiani to develop my game over the years. My teammates have pushed me to always improve as well. Being teammates with Chris Eck and living close to Craig Bunker always have me the best to practice with.
Outside of the sport my parents have been a huge influence in how I carry myself on and off the field. My dad always has encouraging words and advice from an outside view. I get a lot of my work ethic and determination from them. I work my butt off to make them proud of the player and person I am and will continue to be.
Where do you see the MLL in five years?
Still growing. I see another expansion team or two in the next five years and the growth of lacrosse in general staying on the rise. It’s an exciting game that’s hard to not fall in love with.
What is your conditioning like? Do you have to do anything different to prepare for an MLL season as opposed to the ring?
The only conditioning I do differently for lacrosse is more sprints. A lot of the fight conditioning I do relates well to facing off. The two are great compliments to each other. Both require quickness, explosive power from your entire body. I do less running for MMA training because there’s no where to run when they close you in the cage.
How do you recover from fighting and playing lacrosse?
Recovery is also very similar. After a day off, an ice bath and a light workout and stretch usually get me back on track. Then it’s back to work. Depending on how grueling the fight is sometimes it takes longer to get back to normal.
Are you looking forward to being back on the field this season, especially with expansion? Do you have any preference where you play?
I can’t wait to get back on the field this season. Last year was a little disappointing after missing four games with a knee injury from a motorcycle accident and having that not at 100 percent for weeks after that. I’m healthy again and ready to pick up where I left off. I’m excited to be playing for the Launch this season. I have been living in Florida for a year now and it’s awesome to play for the home state team and make a push for the post season in August.
What do you do when you are not training or playing lacrosse?
Before I moved to Florida I loved snowboarding. I’m going to start wake boarding now that I don’t have snow. And most of my free time is spent training or teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Now you get to ask me a question…
What is your prediction for the final four teams this season and why?
Not pulling any punches? Okay my first two are New York and Boston because of their semi final game last season. Both lost some players in the expansion draft but their rosters are still pretty much intact. Ohio is next and has been knocking on the door for the past two seasons and this may be the year they go through. They made serious effort and trades to keep their roster in place. Next is Florida. The chemistry they found at the end of last season was impressive and if they can build off that and play consistently they have a chance.