After over a year away from the cage Roger Huerta will be back in action on November 26th when he takes on War Machine at a brand new promotion called 'Ultimate Warrior Fighting'* at the Events Centre in Pharr, Texas.
Huerta enjoyed a rapid rise through the UFC ranks before leaving to sign a lucrative contract with Bellator. His mixed martial arts career has since taken something of a backseat due to the distraction of first acting commitments and then the new camp him and Mike Swick are currently constructing with in Phuket.
After a period of soul searching Huerta, who is currently teaching and training at Phuket Top Team, has decided to return to competitive MMA,
"Fighting for me is in my blood, it's in my DNA and its something I will always have a passion for. It's been very instinctual for me from growing up and now I think that a lot of things are starting to fall into place and I want to fight again," he said.
A record of 1-4 in his last four fights does not sound particularly impressive but the level of opposition and the competitiveness of those contests would suggest that Huerta, who is still only 28 and has been training constantly throughout his recent period of inactivity, can still be a force to be reckoned with,
"I lost to Kenny Florian who is fighting Jose Aldo for the title and has fought for a title how many times? And I lost to him by decision. I lost to Gray Maynard by a split decision which could have gone either way and this guy is fighting for the title too, I lost to Pat Curran by split decision and this guy is two time Bellator tournament champion. I lost to Eddie Alvarez who is considered one of the top pound for pound guys in the world he’s the champion, apart from the last one these were all close losses."
Huerta admits that he contemplated retirement but instead has decided to adjust his style a little bit to ensure that he doesn't leave any more fights in the judge's hands.
"I was kind of thinking of hanging my gloves up and thinking 'I don’t know if this is for me anymore' but if you look at the guys I barely lost to… I just have to tweak a few things. I’m at that point where as soon as the bell rings I’m going back to my old style where I come at guys 100 miles an hour, basically non stop. The mentality is to take these guys to the deep end and drown them."
He says he was shocked when he discovered he had lost to Curran and that the decision was particularly difficult to come to terms with,
"I couldn’t believe it. It was really shocking and that hit me pretty hard because Pat Curran was a dark horse and not a lot of people respected him but look what he’s done and what he’s accomplished since."
His next fight will see him moving up in weight to 170 lbs to take on colorful TUF veteran War Machine, who spent a large portion of the year behind bars. Huerta describes the move up in weight as an experiment but believes that cutting too much weight might have adversely effected him in recent fights,
"What I started to realize is that I don’t have a lot of fat to lose so I was losing strength and muscle and I started to fight weak and I don’t know if I wasn't doing the weight cutting properly. I’ve fought at 170 before and at catchweights like 160, 165 and then I started dieting to fight at 155 and did very well but it started tapering of so I wanted to try this out, its like a trial run to see how I feel competing at this weight. When I train I am grappling with heavier guys and I’m as strong or stronger as the guys who fight at 170 lbs and I thought to myself, ‘I can still have the same strength at 170 lbs but I will have more speed'."
Huerta is now based permanently in Phuket and says he feels at home in the tropical Thai island. He has spent a large portion of the last two years there having first travelled to Thailand in 2009 to work on his stand up skills with the trainers at Tiger Muay Thai. He believes his striking has improved dramatically in this period but warns that War Machine is in for an unpleasant surprise if he is expecting his wrestling or ground fighting to have declined,
"My stand up has got a lot better and I’m excited to see where I am at right now because I have been just training the whole time. I've been a student again and I’ve been learning Muay Thai. I have good training partners here at Phuket Top Team and Silviu, the Sambo coach, and I have done live wrestling and Jiu Jitsu, he’s legit. He's similar size but a little bit bigger and the knowledge he has of Sambo and leg locks... it's a different style but it works really well for him. Rafael (Lopes) the BJJ coach is no joke either, he's a legit brown belt and there’s another kid from Canada, Lenny Wheeler, and his wrestling is good too. They have a good squad here at Phuket Top Team and the Muay Thai is obviously pretty good too."
Huerta has enjoyed training other students at Phuket Top Team and says he plans to continue teaching once him and Swick open their camp. It is going to be called 'Nitor Muay Thai, MMA and Fitness Camp' which according to Huerta comes from a Latin word which means 'to persevere, to excel and to strive'.
Former UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne, Huerta's long time coach who he describes as being like a 'big brother', is going to be in charge of the MMA program and there will also be some high class wrestlers flying in regularly from the US. As well as Muay Thai and MMA there will also be a strong emphasis on strength and conditioning and nutrition.
After undergoing an extensive but essential legal process to ensure that all the proper paperwork is in place excavation has already begun and Nitor Muay Thai, MMA and Fitness Camp should open it's doors to customers for the first time in February.
In the meantime Huerta will continue preparing for his November 26th date with War Machine at Phuket Top Team. He has signed a one fight contract with Ultimate Warrior Fighting, which will use a cage and the unified rules of MMA, but says the promotion plans to put on plenty more shows once the first card is out of the way.
The actual bout agreement with War Machine has not yet been signed but this is a mere formality and the fight is certain to take place on a pay per view card at the Pharr Events Centre. For Huerta this will be a homecoming of sorts as he spend much of his famously troubled childhood in this area,
"Pharr is an area where I grew up and spend a lot of my childhood years from 4th grade to 9th grade so it's like my home town. My adopted family is in Austin but in Pharr I have a lot of extended family. None of my family are blood related, my family consists of people I have kept in touch with through schools or foster homes, that’s my family and that’s all in Texas. A lot of people are coming to watch me fight which will be kind of cool."
He cited exhaustion due to multiple media commitments as being one of the reasons he left the UFC but refused to rule out a possible return. First Huerta will need to show that he can cut it as a welterweight when he takes on an opponent in War Machine who, while undeniably tough, is not of the same calibre as the last few fighters he has faced.
After a childhood spent in abject poverty in Austin and Pharr it is fitting that Huerta should be returning to his roots as a successful actor and mixed martial artist to headline a major new event. With Go Go dancers and a 'crazy DJ' it promises to be quite a show and the man who regularly produced fight of the night contenders during his UFC days will be looking to provide the fireworks.
* Roger thought this was the name, he wasn't 100% sure.