Huerta Passes on UFC Contract

Roger Huerta wants to flex a new muscle.

The popular lightweight has turned down a new five-fight contract with the UFC to pursue a career in acting in 2009. Huerta has one more fight on his current contract with the UFC that will see him back in the Octagon some time before December. After that, Huerta said he’d re-evaluate his options.

“I’m not burned out [with fighting],” said Huerta. “I have one fight left with the UFC and I want to honor that. As soon as they tell me to fight, I’ll fight my last fight on the contract.”

After getting bit by the bug last summer shooting a role in the film “Tekken,” Huerta said the timing felt right to tackle a wholly different challenge.

“I saw that you have to dedicate as much as you do to training for a fight as you do for an acting role and I’m intrigued by that,” said Huerta. “I’m 25 years old. I see Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture and they didn’t really hit their primes till their thirties. I’m only going to be young so long and I know that movies and agencies and what not want the young look.”

The handsome bi-lingual fighter was pushed heavily on the press following his rousing victory over Leonard Garcia at UFC 69 in April 2007. The performance landed the Minneapolis resident the cover of Sports Illustrated that May – a first in the sport’s 15-year history. However, Huerta believes it was his gut-wrenching performance against Clay Guida at “The Ultimate Fighter 6” finale in December 2007 that brought on his popularity with fans.

“I felt naked after that fight because I gave everything I had in there, from physical abilities to my emotions,” said Huerta. “I was a little messed up in the head for the next two months. That last round took a lot out of me. I went to another level mentally.”

Though Huerta (20-2-1, 1 NC) fought and won five times in 2007 -- culminating with the Guida bout -- his schedule became muddled the next year. In 2008, he entered the cage only once and lost to Kenny Florian via unanimous decision at UFC 87 last August.

Huerta’s contract was extended for two six-month periods during that time due to his inability to commit to fights that were offered to him. Over the summer, Huerta made plans to return to Augsburg College, but the opportunity to play Miguel “The Matador” Rojo in the feature film adaptation of the popular video game “Tekken,” proved too good an opportunity to pass up. Huerta remains one class shy of his Bachelor’s Degree, while the film, in which Huerta has a small speaking role, is due out in fall 2009.

Huerta also turned down a fight with Joe Stevenson at UFC 95 on Feb. 21 in London, due to “personal family issues.” Stevenson will now face Diego Sanchez instead.

Huerta’s reps believe the fighter’s future in film looks promising. Huerta recently signed a three-movie development deal with Lion’s Gate films, whose recent projects include “The Transporter 3” and “The Spirit.”

“Roger loves fighting for the UFC, but it doesn’t make sense for him to re-sign and continually let them down when he can’t take fights due to other projects,” said Huerta’s manager Jeff Clark, of NCFC Fight Management. “They have a business to run and schedules to keep as well.”

Still, others might see a different motivation for Huerta’s decision not to sign on the dotted line this time around. Huerta caused waves last July in an interview with Fight! Magazine where he voiced discontent with the UFC’s pay scale and the public relation responsibilities placed on fighters for little to no pay.

Huerta said he was spread too thin between appearances and his first movie role at the time and misspoke.

“I was thinking like a young kid,” said Huerta of the infamous interview. “I’m young and people make mistakes.”

Huerta and his management downplayed any ill will with Zuffa LLC., which owns the UFC. In fact, Huerta says his relationship with UFC owners Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White, the promotion’s president, has never been stronger.

“I personally look up to Lorenzo and Dana,” he said. “This sport wouldn’t be where it is without them. With the $40 million in the hole and Dana grinding it out through everything, and putting the sport on the map, we owe them a lot.”

Without his income from fighting, Huerta said he’ll supplement his bank account with appearances and seminars while he takes acting classes. He also plans to join one of his trainers in Los Angeles for auditions through a talent agent who coordinates with his NCFC fight management.

He said he had no plans to talk to other promotions once his UFC contract’s non-compete period is satisfied some time around April 2010.

“The UFC is my home and it is my family and eventually I’ll come back,” said Huerta. “Pursuing the modeling and acting thing, that’s kind of where I’m at right now. The fighting will always be there. I’ll always have that in me. The truth is I’ve been fighting my whole life for everything, and this to me, is something else.”
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