LEWISTON, Maine — John Ortolani enters Saturday night’s battle against Brewer’s Jon Lemke for the New England Fights Maine lightweight championship with a background similar to the other mixed martial arts practitioners who will compete on the 27-fight NEF X card at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
The 27-year-old native of Billerica, Mass., wrestled in high school and has trained in such MMA disciplines as boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai.
But Ortolani’s resume also features an item unique to the sport — professional lacrosse player.
He recently completed his fifth season as a faceoff specialist in Major League Lacrosse and his first with the Rochester (N.Y.) Rattlers after four years with the Boston Cannons, where he was part of that team’s 2011 MLL championship run.
“My position in lacrosse translates really well to mixed martial arts,” said Ortolani, a three-time All-New England selection and a two-time All-Commonwealth Coast Conference choice while playing lacrosse at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. “All I do is take faceoffs, which is like a wrestling match for the ball.
“I’m the second- or third-smallest guy at my position in the league, so for me leverage and technique are as important as power when I take on the big guys.”
MLL is a part-time profession played mostly on weekends, so Ortolani makes ends meet by coaching wrestling at his high school alma mater, serving as a clinician at various camps and since 2009 competing as a professional mixed martial artist.
“Training camp for lacrosse is in April and the season runs until the end of August,” said Ortolani, “so I usually try to schedule my fights around that.”
He said it’s his option to take an MMA bout during lacrosse season, but the risk of injury might jeopardize his playing status as a starter for the Rattlers. So while he continues to train for MMA four days a week during the summer, he plans his fights around the MLL schedule.
“Lacrosse is not a full-time job, so it’s really up to me when I fight,” he said. “I try to get a fight in right before training camp in February and then have another one right after the season.”
Ortolani’s MMA bouts this year reflect that scheduling sense.
He last fought Feb. 23 in Plymouth, Mass., where he dropped a unanimous decision to Desmond Green, a veteran of several NEF cards who recently lost in the first round of Bellator MMA’s featherweight tournament to Brazilian Fabricio Guerreiro.
With another lacrosse season recently completed, now comes his title bout against Lemke, a five-round battle for the NEF 155-pound crown that Green vacated to compete for Bellator.
“I know he’s tough,” said Ortolani of his next opponent. “He hits hard, he’s an all-around tough guy who likes to do more stand up, which is good for me because I like to take fights to the ground.
“But I try to concentrate more on what we’re going to do in the cage rather than what the other guy is going to do.”
Ortolani (7-7) will be making his second appearance on an NEF card, having scored a first-round victory over Bruce “Pretty Boy” Boyington at NEF V last November in Lewiston.
Ortolani also will be making his second bid to match his MLL championship with an MMA title belt, having lost to Lucas Cruz for the Cage FX lightweight crown in June 2012 at Plymouth, Mass.
“It’s just more motivation,” he said. “It gets you psyched up to have the chance to go out there and win a championship, but you really have to train for it, too, because you might have to fight five (five-minute) rounds instead of the usual three.”
Ortolani has no plans to give up his lacrosse career even if he becomes a champion in a second sport.
“I’m hoping to play for as long as possible,” he said.
Lemke seeks rebound win, NEF crown
Jon Lemke is seeking not only to win the NEF Maine lightweight crown Saturday night but to rebound from his first defeat.
The Team Irish fighter went unbeaten in the amateur ranks and won his first three pro fights with NEF until falling to Matt DesRoches during NEF VIII on July 12 at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor.
That bout was fought at a catchweight of 160 pounds, five pounds heavier than Lemke’s usual fighting weight, against an undefeated Canadian opponent who is a natural welterweight (170 pounds).
But Lemke offers no excuses.
“People can expect a much more mature and patient fighter this time around,” he said recently. “No disrespect to my opponent, but I look at my last fight as more of an entertainment lesson than a fight lesson. I had already determined beforehand how I was going to fight him and I allowed the moment to get away from me. I was so amped up for that fight that I didn’t think at all and just came out swinging for the fences. I have learned that no matter what the emotions involved before a fight (are) to be able to separate myself from those emotions and fight with a clear mind and heart.”
Lemke’s trainer, Team Irish owner Marcus Davis, expects a different Lemke in the cage with an NEF title at stake.
“I just think he has to get back to what he does best and not fight how he thinks everyone else wants him to fight,” said Davis. “Before that fight he said he was going to go out and fight to entertain, but what he’s got to do is go out there, take his time, take the guy apart and finish the guy when he knows he’s got him hurt.”