Exclusive: Huerta on Choosing Bellator

By Loretta Hunt Mar 16, 2010
Roger Huerta longs for a year like 2007, where the lightweight added five fights -- all victories -- to his docket. The prospect of having four bouts in 2010 is the main reason why Huerta signed with Bellator Fighting Championships instead of with rival promotions like the UFC and Strikeforce, he told Sherdog.com. Huerta debuts in the promotion’s eight-man lightweight tournament on April 8 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

Huerta, who passed on a five-fight renewal contract with the UFC in January 2009 to pursue acting interests, said he was attracted to Bellator’s elimination format. Huerta previously competed in three one-night tournaments at the start of his career.

“Bellator provided me with a sense of security,” Huerta told Sherdog.com on Monday. “I control my own destiny in the tournament. The winner gets to face one of the best lightweight fighters in the world -- that’s the goal. If I lose, then it’s my fault. It’s on me and I can deal with that.”

Huerta enters the eight-man bracket alongside unknown commodities Chad Hinton, Ferrid Kheder, Mike Ricci, Janne Tulirita, Carey Vanier and returning season-one finalist Toby Imada. The eventual tournament winner will bank $100,000 over three bouts ($10,000/$10,000; $15,000/$15,000; $25,000/$25,000) during a 12-week span and will also earn the opportunity to challenge Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in the fall.

Huerta, the first fighter ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated following his emphatic UFC 69 win over Leonard Garcia in 2007, was heavily promoted by the UFC in 2007 and 2008. When the popular 26-year-old fighter opted not to re-sign with the promotion, Bellator and Strikeforce both courted Huerta, who is of Salvadoran and Mexican decent. Sherdog.com has learned that the bilingual Huerta was offered additional undisclosed incentives to join the fledging Bellator’s ranks, which caters to both English- and Spanish-speaking demographics.

Huerta said he has little knowledge of the eight-man field he’s entering but realizes his notoriety could work against him.

“I know I’ll have a target on my back and that these guys will be fighting with everything they’ve got when they meet me,” he said. “I’m going to be facing these guys at their best.”

In his final turn in the Octagon, Huerta dropped a split decision to Gray Maynard at UFC Fight Night 19 in September. Huerta said his hunger for MMA returned following the bout, and while Jeff Clark, his manager and a consultant for Bellator, fielded offers, Huerta used the downtime to improve his game. Huerta spent two months in Thailand honing his skills.

“My stand-up is so much better,” said Huerta of the experience. “MMA fighters can tend to get flat-footed because they’re trying to defend the takedown. Thai fighting is more on the balls of the feet, so you’re springier, like Anderson Silva. We focused a lot on technique, even the simplest details, like turning my hips with my kicks.”

Moving back to Austin, Texas, to be closer to his family, has also had a positive effect on the fighter, he said. Huerta recently began training with seasoned UFC veteran Yves Edwards and World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight Kamal Shalorus in a friend’s converted garage. The makeshift gym has been dubbed “El Garage.”

Bellator symbolizes a new beginning for Huerta, and he likes the idea of having more control over it.

“I know it’s going to be hard because I have to win the three fights, but I’m giving myself more fights if I win,” said Huerta. “It’s up to me, and I like the sound of that.”

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