Roger Huerta could have signed a multi-fight deal with Bellator. He said no.
The longtime MMA veteran — once a can’t-miss prospect — is gambling on himself. And he’s betting big.
“I’m putting all the chips [from] my side,” Huerta told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I’m betting the house.”
Huerta will make his return to Bellator after eight years away to take on former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in the main event of Bellator 196 on April 6 in Budapest. The bout is a short-notice booking after headliner James Gallagher pulled out due to a hand injury.
Huerta, 34, said he had been in contact with Bellator for about six months, but nothing came together until very recently. Huerta, who is now living in Los Angeles, said he had a conversation with Bellator president Scott Coker, went for a run and when he returned he had a flood of e-mails. When he saw the name “Benson Henderson,” he couldn’t type fast enough to respond.
“Then they told me who I was gonna face and I’m like, give me that fight, I don’t care,” Huerta said. “I’m for it. I don’t care if it’s three weeks, I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready to f*cking throw down with this guy. I don’t care. And that’s how it went down.”
Huerta (24-9-1, 1 NC) said he has not been this excited for a fight since his UFC days. He departed that organization in 2010. He was once a prized signing from the UFC for former Bellator president Bjorn Rebney — the first-ever MMA athlete to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But he has had a winding road since then.
“I’m excited for it,” Huerta said. “I haven’t been excited for a fight in a while. And I’m excited for this one. I’ve been up since 5 a.m. … Someone like him makes me hungry, makes me work hard. Makes me motivated.”
Huerta spent most of the last eight years fighting for ONE Championship in Asia. At the time, he was living in Thailand. Huerta has since left there and has now taken up residence on the couch of his friend and strength and conditioning coach Justin Hagen, he said. When asked if he plans on staying in LA, Huerta says “I’ve got no home.”
“I’m just roaming around,” said Huerta, who was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Texas and spent time in El Salvador, Mexico and Minnesota. “The planet Earth is my home.”
It seems that Huerta’s journey is about to come full circle. He was supposed to be a major star for Bellator nearly a decade ago, but has only gone 4-6 since then. Now, he’s stepping up on short notice with the opportunity to knock off a former UFC champ. All he wants is the chance.
“I know that I’m better than what I’ve shown, I know that I’m better than what I’ve displayed,” Huerta said. “I’ve put a lot of time into this. This is about 15 years that i’ve been doing this sport. I just want to showcase I’m better than what has been shown, especially these last couple of years.”
MMA’s once-future-star-turned-meandering-journeyman has a shot at flipping the narrative on its head again.
“It’s really crazy,” Huerta said. “I’m excited. I’m excited to face Ben. I respect this guy a lot. He’s done amazing things for this sport. He’s had a hell of a career. And I’m excited to get back in the mix.”