Roger “El Matador” Huerta wants to make a big statement, and he plans to make it next weekend.
On Friday Night, 11 November, the American warrior will attempt to snap his two-fight losing streak when he battles Adrian “The Hunter” Pang at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR, live at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Between Huerta’s intense style and the hard-hitting Aussie’s never-back-down mentality, this match could very well be the fight of the night.
“You can look at all my fights,” Huerta begins. “I fight no matter what and I throw down.”
Huerta’s history proves that to be true. Dig a little deeper and it may have been safe to say at one point, he was one of America’s most recognizable mixed martial artists.
The lightweight was the first fighter in MMA gloves to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Huerta’s 2009 cover came on the cusp of the sport breaking into the mainstream. He had the look and the record to be one of MMA’s breakout stars.
However, before the bright lights and big pay days, MMA was something he did on the side.
“I first started fighting in Minnesota, USA, during college,” Huerta says of his humble beginnings. “I was going to school and I did not have a trust fund or parents to pay my tuition. Fighting for me was a part-time job that would pay for my student loans and other expenses.”
First impressions are often said to be everything, and for Huerta the victories, and the money, came fast.
“My first fight, I won in 30 seconds and I made 300 dollars,” he says. “That is when I realized I could do this.”
Unlike some fighters that got a little taste of what the money could be like, Huerta did not jump headfirst into the uncertain financial waters of professional MMA. In addition to his studies, he held down a string of other jobs while going to school.
“I was a bouncer at night. I shoveled snow in the winter time. MMA was a part-time job that became a full-time thing,” he recalls. “I was grinding and hustling. It was as simple as that.”
After three years and 18 professional fights, Huerta landed in the UFC, where he racked up six straight victories.
“Life changed a lot then,” the 33-year-old reminisces. “I finally started to make real money. I was able to pay off some debts. MMA paid my student loans. This thing was able to provide for my lifestyle.”
The hot streak cooled swiftly following back-to-back losses, but Huerta still seemed poised for superstardom. The word was that Huerta, who landed a role in Tekken, was leaving the sport to pursue an acting career. Evidently, none of that was true.
“I will be very honest about that,” he says. “I never really wanted to do movies or any of that stuff. I was saying what my managers were telling me [at the time].
“When I was leaving, they were telling me to say I wanted to pursue a different career so the fans would not have questions. I never really wanted to. Let’s clear that up.”
In 2009, Huerta began training in Phuket, Thailand, before making it his permanent home in 2011. A year later, he landed in ONE Championship.
His debut at ONE: DESTINY OF WARRIORS ended in a second-round loss that saw him on the wrong end of a knockout. He rebounded a year later with a TKO victory over Christian Holley at ONE: REIGN OF CHAMPIONS, but dropped his next two bouts.
Now, he looks to build upon his 22-9-1, 1NC record and snap his two-fight skid when he meets Pang inside the cage. The hard-hitting Aussie holds a remarkably similar 22-9-2 record, and is armed with an iron chin and BJJ black belt.
Despite his opponent’s skills and physical gifts, “El Matador” is confident in his ability to win and sustain success. “I truly believe I am good at this thing,” he says. “I believe I can be one of the best at it. I just have to get my head right.”
For Huerta, MMA is all he knows today.
“I like doing this and I would prefer doing this over anything else. I have tried other things, but I always come back to this.
“I do not know how to explain it. It is just a natural thing for me. When I started fighting back, doors started opening. MMA is an outlet for me.”
Huerta will keep trying to open those doors against Pang. And against a man with his back against the wall, the Australian could be in for a tough fight.