by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
As Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight prospect Roger Huerta heads into the home stretch of preparation for his fight with Kenny Florian at UFC 87, it would be understandable for the pressure to build. At 25, Huerta has managed to cement his reputation as a hard-hitting, never-say-die breed of fighter, even after an extended layoff from the game — when criticism tends to get louder.
Like many fights that materialize over time, it appears Huerta’s decision to step back into the Octagon was born out of a slight misunderstanding. During a post-fight interview, Florian mentioned him as a potential opponent. Huerta says that provided the motivation to return.
“I kind of heard that Kenny had called me out, (and) at the same time I started to get edgy, and I started to feel like I wanted to come back and fight again,” Huerta said.
Florian counters that he was simply giving his opinion on the division’s best match-up, but regardless, it was an interaction that bore fruit for serious fans of the sport.
Huerta has made a point of traveling to different camps for fresh perspectives, landing with UFC welterweight Georges St. Pierre’s camp for a finer lesson in the art of savaging his opponents. He’s taken well to St. Pierre’s round the clock attack, something he considers to be his greatest asset going into his fight with Florian.
“It’s been amazing, St. Pierre’s just a pure athlete,” Huerta said today in a media teleconference. “Going against a guy like that day in and day out is pretty…interesting, for the fact that it’s grueling, and you’ve got to be on top of your game all the time with that guy.”
St. Pierre obviously walks around a lot heavier than Huerta, and Huerta’s work with the champ, as well as the physical benefits he’s reaped, has given him reason to think about his future ability to stay at lightweight. Like a lot of top fighters these days, he’s thinking bigger.
“I’m 25 years old and the older I get, the more training I do, the more weight I gain, the more muscle mass I get,” Huerta says. “It’s not a problem at the moment, but I don’t doubt that in maybe 3 or 4 years from now that I know I’m going to have problems making 155, so that’s when I’ll start thinking about moving up to 170.”
Right now, though, Huerta is tasked with his toughest opponent yet. Florian brings not only a well-versed attack to his fights, but a thinking man’s approach to battle. He can come right at his opponents, or hang back and wait for them to mistakes. Either way, he tends to seize opportunities quickly.
Huerta has also been praised for his ability to think inside the cage. He looked at the big screen monitors for better elbow angles against a clinging Alberto Crane, but he also fights with a great deal more emotion. When he gets hit, he gets mad. Trainers and managers sometimes worry about his emotions getting him into a bad position. But Huerta says that’s just part of his way.
“When you fight and compete at this kind of level, you’ve got to think outside the box at all times,” Huerta says. “I know Kenny’s doing the same thing. Who knows what’s going to happen during this fight, or any fight down the road. I’m always thinking in there, what can I do under the rules and find a way to win.”
Clearly, something comes out of Huerta when he steps into the cage. Call it his rough past, his “gameness,” or the desire to keep alive his lifelong dream of being a professional athlete, Huerta wants people to know he’s going to give his all. But he also wants them to know there’s a reason – encouraged by increased media attention — that he’s almost too confident.
“People think that when I’m quoted, when I say ‘I’m never going to lose,’ they think that in the wrong way,” Huerta says. “If you go in there saying ‘I’m going to lose this fight,’ why would you step in there in the first place? I go in there psychologically knowing that I’ve already won, that I’m going to win. Basically sacrifice my whole life and career knowing that I gave everything I had to prepare for this moment, and hopefully, it turns out good.”
Huerta is now rounding out his camp in Minnesota with WEC fighters Donald Cerrone and Leonard Garcia. He knows this is the most important fight of his career, and he’s anxious to fight. No predictions are made, but he anticipates another war in a string of wars he’s had since breaking out in the UFC.
“I think he’s one of the best competitors there is,” Huerta says of Florian. “I’m going to have to be on the top of my game for this fight, for sure, not only athletically but my skill level as well. He’s one of those guys that you have to bring your A game.”