There was a point in time, which coincided with a brutal soccer-kick KO loss to Zorobabel Moreira in One Championship, that Roger Huerta found himself drifting far from the mindset that he felt would be appropriate for a professional fighter.
“I’ll just say it,” Huerta told Sherdog.com. “Before, I was in this ‘Kumbaya’ spiritual type of mentality, and I understand that I can’t be having this sort of mentality going into the fight game…I have to have that killer instinct, go for the attack. Just go for it, that’s what I mean.”
The Moreira loss in June 2012 was Huerta’s sixth in his last seven professional MMA bouts. Never had “El Matador” seemed further removed from his Sports Illustrated cover appearance some five years prior, when he was a marketable Mexican-American star with an unquestionably bright future in the world’s largest mixed martial arts organization.
But Huerta will tell you that he was never really that guy, that the magazine cover was a chance occurrence, and the recognition that came with it was never something he sought. In fact, the man dubbed “Rising UFC Star Roger Huerta” in “America’s Fasting Growing and Most Controversial Sport” doesn’t even own a personal copy of the issue.
“I really didn’t understand that world. I still don’t,” he said. “I guess I’m not doing this to be a popular person. I want to be a world champion, that’s it. Not be popular.”
Huerta took a little more than two years off following that One Championship defeat. The hiatus was one of self discovery, and what Huerta eventually figured out — after a self-described Rastafarian sabbatical that involved a fair amount of ganja smoking — was that he still wanted to keep fighting.
“I would say I went on this depressive state,” Huerta said. “Then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re smoking way too much. You need to be an athlete, get back on the horse.’ It’s been this really strange up-and-down type thing, where I question myself like, ‘What am I doing?’ type of thing.”
Huerta’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect that of someone on a championship path. He is 3-5 in professional MMA bouts since 2014, including an 0-3 start to his ongoing second stint with Bellator MMA. Still, the 36-year-old is confident that his refreshed mentality will make a difference in the long run.
“When I was fighting in One Championship, I started to really question what I’m doing and why I’m in this cage and why am I punching this guy in the face….It was just a really strange psychological thing that I really started going through,” Huerta says. “Going back into it now, it’s just completely different.”
Huerta has never been given an easy road in Bellator. His first stint in 2010 included pairings with Eddie Alvarez and Pat Curran, and he began his second tenure with matchups against perennial contenders Benson Henderson and Patricky Freire. Even his most recent outing at Bellator 234 came against Sidney Outlaw, a Dana White’s Contender Series alum who upped his winning streak to nine with a unanimous verdict over his veteran foe this past November. It didn’t help matters Huerta accepted that matchup, his 38th professional fight, while still recovering from a serious motorcycle accident.. Despite those results, Huerta isn’t hoping for a softer touch from Bellator matchmakers in the future.
“I’m not asking for no tuneups,” Huerta said. “This path that I’ve been on is the path that I’m asking for. Whatever is gonna get me closer to being a world champion. That’s where the mentality is back. I’m back into my competitive state…When I started to fight, why did I start fighting? I wanted to be a world champion. At the end of the day, I want to be a world champion.
“Before I’m done in this game, before I die – I don’t want to be remembered as this guy was on SI. No, I want to be remembered like, ‘F—k man, he made a hell of a comeback and he became a world champion.”
Currently, Huerta is observing social distancing protocol in Phuket, Thailand during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He runs, works out alone in the gym and does his best to be prepared for the day when Bellator is up and running again. Staying physically prepared is one thing, but perhaps most importantly, Huerta has his mind right.
“I’ll be ready to go as soon as they put on the first show,” he said. “I’ll definitely be ready. All I do is training. All I do is think about this. All I do is watch fights. All I’m doing is this.”