Before signing with Bellator earlier this year Roger Huerta's future as an MMA fighter was far from certain. He had just made his Hollywood debut in the movie Tekken and was contemplating making another movie, this time with Mickey Rourke.
"I was really lucky to get the part in Tekken , I was just in the right place at the right time, but it has been a blessing," Huerta said. "I didn’t know I could act until Tekken but I realized ‘I can do this’ and people were impressed and told me I could make a career out of it. Mickey Rourke gave me a phone call and told me to come to New York and he gave me some acting lessons and hooked me up with his acting coach."
Mickey Rourke was also keen for Huerta to star alongside him in a movie. The veteran actor was himself a successful amateur boxer and obviously feels that his protegee has the potential to make a similar transition.
"I could do a movie with Mickey Rourke but he wants me to train for it and really get good at acting," said Huerta. "He has already given me a lot of homework and there are some actors he wants me to study so I can see what they do."
Fortunately for MMA fans Huerta has put his Hollywood career on the backburner to sign a deal with Bellator and will be making his debut in that organization against Chad Hinton later tonight.
The Hinton fight may be one Huerta is expected to win comfortably but he has gained a reputation for being involved in some classic back-and-forth brawls. His fights against Leonard Garcia and Clay Guida were both "Fight of the Year" contenders.
Previously undefeated, Huerta lost his final two fights in the UFC. He feels that a lack of motivation, partly caused by fatigue, was a factor in his first ever UFC loss to Kenny Florian:
"That fight was to be the number-one contender and get a shot at the title but I lost," Huerta said. "To be honest I was burned out, I didn’t have the drive or the hunger that I had the previous year. In 2007 I fought five times and won five times and I had to do a lot of promotional work for the UFC, flying everywhere to promote the brand. I didn’t feel human, I felt like a machine and I wasn’t really focused when I fought Kenny Florian but the Gray Maynard fight I felt like I had started getting that focus back."
Huerta lost a controversial split decision to Maynard, taking the rising star from title contender-ship to the UFC brink in the space of two closely contested fights.
Huerta does not believe that leaving the UFC was necessarily a step backwards for him though:
"I think it is a misconception that just because fighters aren’t in the UFC they aren’t good," Huerta said. "There’s Gilbert Melendez and Joachim Hansen as well as Bellator Champion Eddie Alvarez. Not all the top-ranked guys in my division are in the UFC and that’s why I think leaving the UFC could be a blessing in disguise if it gives me the opportunity to test my skills against these guys."
If he can win the Bellator Lightweight Tournament Huerta will get his opportunity to face reigning champion Alvarez, an opportunity he relishes:
"The main reason I signed with Bellator was the tournament format. It means I will get at least three fights this year, hopefully four. I wanted to stay active because in the last two years I have only fought twice. If I win the tournament and beat Alvarez, who is ranked in the Top Five, I think that will put me in the top three Lightweights in the world," he said.
Should Huerta defeat all comers he will once again have the MMA world at his feet and no shortage of suitors for his signature when his Bellator deal eventually expires. His life hasn’t always been like this, though; growing up he was abandoned by his parents and spent a troubled youth in and out of foster care.
"Nothing was ever handed to me or given to me, nothing. I had a really rough childhood and I have worked really hard to be where I am at," he says.
It wasn’t until high school that Roger started to turn his life around and discover an aptitude for sports, and in particular, wrestling.
"I used to get in a lot of fights before I started competing but wrestling gave me an outlet to get out a lot of aggression which I had from growing up. I was able to take all of the negativity from my childhood and turn it into a positive energy."
Huerta has recently spent time training his standup at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand. He believes that Muay Thai will give him the tools he needs to improve as an MMA fighter:
"I think I can definitely use this in MMA and that it could help me to become champion. Most MMA fighters have a background in wrestling, like myself, because you wrestle in high school and then in college but when you finish college, you can either try out for the Olympic wrestling team or get into MMA. I think because a lot of fighters don’t grow up striking, they grow up wrestling, their level of striking is not so good and that’s what makes a fight go to the ground. I think if more MMA fighters came here and could see what they were missing out on it would be a lot different. Even the eight-year-olds in Thailand have better standup than most MMA fighters."
Huerta has confidence in his ground game and thinks improving his standup will make him the complete package:
"I know that I am OK on the ground. I have always been a good brawler and I’ve had a few street fights. Now I am becoming technically better on my feet and I want to be able to put myself in positions where I can knock people out standing up."
He was frustrated against Kenny Florian and feels that Florian won because he fought a clever fight and was able to play the points system:
"‘When I fought Clay Guida I was over-reaching with my punches and leaving myself vulnerable for the takedown and I had the same problem in the Florian fight. I ended up changing that when I fought Gray though and I ended up getting taken down a lot less. One mess up can change the whole fight, that’s the beautiful thing about MMA."
The beauty of MMA is a subject he keeps returning to, and Huerta, who is one of a number of outstanding MMA fighters of Mexican descent, is disappointed that the sport has yet to catch on in the country:
"MMA is huge in the UK and the US but hasn’t hit Mexico at all. I was down there when Tito was fighting Forrest and I couldn’t find anywhere to watch the fight. I asked people where I could watch UFC fights and they had no idea what I was talking about."
Boxing is still the main attraction in Mexico, but according to Huerta even the WWE (wrestling) is bigger than MMA in his homeland. It is a situation he would like to redress:
"It’s not really about Roger Huerta but I am a big fan of the sport of MMA and I would like to help it grow."
Despite his success, Huerta is in no danger of forgetting where he came from and has set up a charity called My Fight For Kids, which helps orphaned children in Tijuana, and he also recently raised money for a home for victims of domestic violence in Austin Texas.
Huerta himself was a victim of domestic abuse as a child and, adopted by his high school teacher at the age of 19, no longer has any contact whatsoever with his biological parents.
"The last time I saw my Dad I told him he had lost something great and he would hear my name around the world," Huerta said. "A lot of people laughed when I told them I would fight in the UFC but these are the people that motivate me. I think that if you have the will to succeed and to make something of yourself then anything is possible."
Huerta admits he feels he has unfinished business in the UFC, where he has a respectable record of 6-2. Winning the Bellator Lightweight Tournament would send a strong message to Dana White that the rags-to-riches kid still deserves to be ranked amongst the best Lightweight fighters in the MMA world.