Has Roger Huerta's Bellator Gamble Backfired?
Roger Huerta's decision to walk away from a UFC contract in order to participate in the Bellator lightweight tournament appears to have gone horribly wrong.
Despite suffering back to back Octagon losses Huerta was never really cut from the UFC, he was simply unable to negotiate terms on a new deal.
Perhaps the two losses adversely affected the amount the UFC were willing to offer Huerta or perhaps he or his agent felt that the UFC's offer should reflect the fact he was a rising Hollywood star. Either way the deal did not get done and Huerta was left looking for a new organization with which to rehabilitate his MMA career.
Somewhat surprisingly, despite having talks with Strikeforce, he elected to sign with Bellator. This instantly thrust Huerta into the relative obscurity of a show which takes place in comparatively small venue on a Thursday night. Even if he was the star of the show he must have struggled to escape feeling he had fallen a long way when he took to the cage to face Chad Hinton in his Bellator debut.
Huerta did at least manage to hand the relatively unknown Hinton the first defeat of his MMA career via third round submission. At this stage it all seemed to be going according to plan for the only mixed martial artist to ever appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine.
If Huerta could have won the Bellator lightweight tournament it would have propelled him up the lightweight rankings and set up a mega fight with reigning champion Eddie Alvarez. This, presumably, was the plan.
The trouble with attempting to get your career back on track by competing against obscure fighters is that you really do need to beat them, something which Huerta failed to do this week. His opponent Pat Curran has never faced top class MMA opposition in his life but handed Huerta his third decision loss in his last four fights in the lightweight tournament semi finals on Thursday night.
With his rags to riches story, good looks, and Hispanic roots Huerta is an MMA promoters dream. Had he successfully negotiated a new deal with the UFC they would presumably have nurtured his career a bit more carefully.
He might have been handed two tough fights towards the end of his original UFC contract but the UFC is not in the business of building up fighters only to see them sign with other promotions. Had he been in the middle of a long term deal with the organization I am sure they would have given him a few easier fights with which to rebuild his reputation. Instead immediately after his first ever UFC loss he was thrown in against the highly rated yet lightly renowned Gray Maynard.
Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard are both top ten ranked lightweights and Huerta can still hold his head high despite this pair of consecutive decision losses. The loss to Pat Curran is a far bigger blow, both to Huerta and his employers. The three judges who controversially scored the fight for Curran have effectively killed Bellator's cash cow.
With Huerta's premature exit the lightweight tournament has lost a lot of its glamour. Bellator will be left wondering what to do with Huerta and, with no shortage of acting offers on the table, Huerta might be wondering if his best days as an MMA fighter are behind him.
Huerta has already overcome insurmountable odds to establish himself as a leading mixed martial artist. In the context of his extraordinary life the loss to Curran represents a very minor setback but it will be tough for Huerta to rebuild his MMA career. The decision to sign with Bellator was a gamble which does not appear to have paid dividends for Roger Huerta.
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