Roger Huerta has had a life “that Hollywood producers make movies about,” according to his former UFC profile.
The 31-year-old American of Mexican and Salvadorian descent overcame poverty, domestic abuse, abandonment and homelessness from an early age to emerge as one of the top lightweights in the world of mixed martial arts.
He went unbeaten for 17 straight fights between 2004 and 2007, though an ill-fated switch from the UFC to fellow US-based MMA promotion Bellator saw him drop to a record of 21-5-1 by late 2010.
Huerta also broke into the entertainment industry with a role as Miguel Caballero Rojo in the 2009 action flick Tekken, based on the popular beat-em-up video game.
However, his craving for real action was too strong to ignore, and a training camp holiday to Thailand helped the fighter known as “El Matador” turn his life around once more.
“I had told my management team: ‘Please book me a flight to Thailand. Just get it done,’” Huerta said during an exclusive interview with the Post this week during a brief visit to Phnom Penh.
“I just wanted to go to Thailand – I wanted to train Muay Thai . . . I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to go into the jungle somewhere and get away from it all.’ And that’s not what happened.
“I ended up in Phuket at Tiger Muay Thai. Not that it was a bad thing though.”
Training with Yod Khunsop Por Pongsawan (Kru Yod) and the other Muay Thai masters in Phuket struck a chord with Huerta, who opted to pay Bellator $50,000 to get out of his contract and take up a place as a trainer in TMT’s fledgling MMA program in 2012.
“I think everything has been a blessing in disguise. The reason I kept coming back to Tiger is because I became good friends with the director, Will Elliot,” Huerta said.
“They’d already hired [UFC welterweight] Brian Ebersole, but he wasn’t there yet. And they were in the process of hiring Fernando Maccachero.
“So I said: ‘If you’ve got another spot I’d be down for it.’ They said, ‘Really?’, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m down to coach.’
So that’s how that happened.”
Huerta noted that a loss in his debut bout for ONE FC, a second-round knockout by Brazil’s Zorobabel Moreira, also helped open the door for his permanent move to Phuket.
“I should’ve had a proper training camp. I’d torn my [anterior cruciate ligament] five weeks before the fight, and I decided to still do it. That was stupid,” he said. “But that landed me the coaching position and things have been going awesome for us right now.”
Back to best
Huerta took a two-year hiatus from the cage, the longest break since his professional MMA career started in 2003, but made an emphatic return in Dubai at ONE FC: Reign of Champions on August 29.
He ended British brawler Christian Holley’s 10-match winning streak with a vicious mauling of knees and punches in the first round.
Huerta then went with two of his Russian TMT teammates to Stockholm for UFC 53 on October 4. Both fighters also won by first-round TKO.
“I’d come back and trained my guys. We’d gone out [to Sweden] and won in the same fashion – just dominated, beast mode,” said Huerta.
“I don’t take any credit for it because this is a team effort. We have a solid, solid team. What goes around at Tiger with us in our MMA program is that everybody who is involved has a really open mind about what we need to do. There’s no controlling factor.”
Huerta noted that Thai fighters now wanted to get into MMA as well. “And we are going to get the Cambodian [ONE FC Featherweight Grand Prix finalists Dun Sam Ang and Chan Rothana] to come over. It’s going to be interesting,”
“Everyone’s always training. That’s the thing about our camp. We do bodyfit, we do crossfit, all that sort of thing. We’re no joke. We’re going to be one of the best gyms in the world, if not the best. That’s my goal . . . in general.
“We can control the MMA program for sure. I truly believe that we are going to breed some of the best guys in the world – we can do that.”
Reflecting on his difficult childhood upbringing in central and north America, Huerta said he felt “very fortunate and blessed” to now call Phuket his home and expressed an empathy with the challenging conditions Cambodian fighters still have to contend with.
“That’s why it’s really hard to see some of the things that are going on around here [in Cambodia]. My heart goes out to these kids because they just need direction. They’re often starving, just fighting for scraps,” he said.
Interestingly, Cambodia’s historic first gold medal at the Asian Games – won by Sorn Seavmey in the women’s under-73kg taekwondo event in South Korea earlier this month – was something the MMA trainer could expand upon.
“Taekwondo is very good for MMA. A lot of guys do really, really well with that background,” said Huerta. “Especially because of their footwork, the way they are able to move their hips, get in and out of [close combat].
“Wrestling is the big one right now. When MMA all started it was martial art versus martial art – you know, discipline versus discipline. Then Brazilian jiu-jitsu is what really took over with Royce Gracie.
“But then, once fighters started to learn how to defend against submissions, the wrestlers kind of took over. That was like the Matt Hughes, the Randy Coutures, the Mark Colemans.
“Then once you start to learn how to defend takedowns and submissions, striking started to take over with guys like the Chuck Liddells.
“[MMA] is always evolving. It seems like wrestlers are taking over again. UFC have a guy called Conor McGregor. The kid is smart. I know he talks trash, but I’m a fan . . . He is as smart as I’ve seen them come.
“I truly believe he will do well. I think he should get a title shot [against UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo].
Cambodian-Australian mixed martial artist Suasday Chau, who lost a controversial bout against Frenchman Arnaud Lepont at ONE FC: Rise of the Kingdom on September 12, informed the Post this week that he was pursuing a taekwondo place for the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore.
Chau won a world championship title in the South Korean martial art of tang soo do, which shares many similarities to taekwondo. He is expecting to achieve a taekwondo black belt by the end of the year.