Roger “El Matador” Huerta last tasted victory in 2010. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Roger Huerta has played various roles in his mixed martial arts career. At one stage, he was the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s golden boy. He then became Bellator MMA’s marquee signing. However, for the last couple years, “El Matador” has embraced his commitments as a coach.
Huerta has not been seen inside the cage since suffering a brutal knockout loss to Zorobabel Moreira at a One Fighting Championship event in June 2012. He will take on undefeated Englishman Christian Holley at One FC 19 “Reign of Champions” on Aug. 29 at the Dubai World Trade Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Despite being away from competitive action, Huerta has remained involved in the sport.
“My focus switched from fighting to coaching,” he told Sherdog.com. “I’ve been coaching at Tiger Muay Thai constantly since my last fight, training a lot of guys, like Mairbek Taisumov and Zubaira Tukhugov, who are in the UFC. They are fighting Oct. 4 in Sweden, so I’ll be stepping back into coaching as soon as I’m done with this fight.”
The bout against Holley will be Huerta’s first at 155 pounds since 2010, and he sounds relieved to once again compete inside the division in which he made his name.
“I’ve always walked around at 77 kilograms; that’s always been my walk-around weight,” Huerta said. “I fluctuate from 77 to 79, and I’m at 77 right now just by eating clean. I’m not minimizing my calories or anything like that. The reason I wasn’t fighting at 70 was that I was going through some injuries and it was difficult to do that cardio you need to get that weight down, but I’m able to do that now.”
Back at his natural weight, Huerta hopes to show he can still be a force to be reckoned with when he returns to action as part of One FC’s first foray into the Middle East. Despite some disappointing recent results, he firmly rejects the idea that he has ever represented anything other than a tough test for opponents.
“Look at the guys that I fought,” he said, “and if you look in detail into what was going on in those fights … I guess I’m not going to be a pushover for anyone; that’s one thing for sure.”
Huerta’s One FC debut ended badly for the 31-year-old, as he was on the receiving end of a brutal soccer kick knockout at the hands of Moreira. “El Matador” put on a good performance in the first round but faded badly in the second. He points the finger at poor preparation.
“Before that fight, I was in the U.S. Then I came to Phuket Top Team and then I joined Tiger Muay Thai, so it was really disorganized,” Huerta said. “I definitely was not in the best shape, and it’s something I learned from.”
This time around, Huerta has had plenty of time to prepare for Holley and vows to have no excuses for not being at his best.
“Training’s going good,” he said. “I was talking to [One FC executives] Victor Cui and Matt Hume about fighting in May; and then they said, ‘We can get you in sometime in August,’ so I started putting my mind to training back then, and I’ve had a proper training camp and surrounded myself with really good guys who can push me.”
Huerta burst on the scene by earning “Fight of the Night” honors in three of his first six UFC bouts; his third-round submission win over Clay Guida at “The Ultimate Fighter 6” Finale in 2007 was named “Fight of the Year” by numerous media outlets. Huerta’s style made him many fans, but seeing as though he is now north of 30, he wants to take a more tactical approach in future fights.
“The sport keeps evolving and you see guys like Jon Jones and Antony Pettis do amazing things, and I’m trying to put some of that into what I need to do,” he said. “I’m trying not to be so much of a brawler, but once you get hit that first time, it all changes.”
Huerta may have had plenty of time to ready himself for his return, but before he could start focusing on specific preparations for his opponent, he needed to get back into the rhythm of doing double sessions every day -- something he admits was a struggle at first.
“I hadn’t pushed my cardio in a long time or done any strength and conditioning,” he said, “so the first three weeks, my body was so sore and so achy and I was thinking, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be doing this,’ and my recovery was really slow but eventually it all kicked in and things started shaping up.”
Having been based at Tiger Muay Thai for more than two years, Huerta has fine-tuned his striking; and while he is not going to completely renounce the brawling style with which he made his name, he hopes to have added a bit of finesse to his standup game.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve changed my style, but there’s a lot of things I’ve done new,” Huerta said. “It all depends what happens that night, and I’m looking forward to getting back in there; but I’ve learned a lot of new things. Obviously, my muay Thai has got a lot better and my footwork has got better, so hopefully I get to display that.”
While a lack of competitive action means Huerta has not been a particularly visible presence for the last couple of years, he has been an integral part of Tiger Muay Thai’s ongoing expansion and has witnessed firsthand the rapid growth the sport has enjoyed in the region. Whether in his capacity as a coach, cornerman, fighter or even just a fan watching shows at home on TV, Huerta feels fortunate to be involved in an exciting period for Asian MMA.
“There are a lot of talented people out here, and it’s really good for them to start getting that experience and that notoriety,” he said. “There used to be the Pride [Fighting Championships] days back in Japan, but what One FC has done is not just stay in one region; they go everywhere, like Malaysia, Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, so they are spreading all over the region. It’s exciting, man.”
A glance at Huerta’s record reveals he is in urgent need of a win, as he has lost four fights in a row and six of his last seven. The move up to welterweight was not a success, but he has always been competitive at 155 pounds despite being thrown in with some of the biggest names in the division. Two-time Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez remains the only man to finish him in a lightweight fight since he first signed with the UFC. Huerta acknowledges the outcome of this next match could dictate whether he decides to prolong his career or hang up the gloves for good. Above all else, it represents an opportunity to turn around things by taking out an undefeated upstart.
“I’m excited to be fighting in the Middle East for the first time, and I’ve had a full training camp for the first time since my UFC days,” Huerta said. “All my energy and all my focus is 100 percent on Christian Holley. He’s undefeated for a reason and no-one has been able to beat him, but I believe I am capable of competing with absolutely anyone in the division.”