Once a hot prospect, now a struggling Mixed Martial Artist. Roger Huerta is a classic and tragic case of how quick a promising career can go south.
Rewind the clock back three years and the man they call ‘El Matador’ was the face of the Hispanic/Latino market in the sport. At one point, Dana White and Zuffa even contemplated organizing an event down in Mexico with Huerta being the main draw. All hopes rode on the shoulders of the talented, and yet troubled fighter. The kid was exciting to watch and had a back story that screamed out ‘Cinderella-Story’.
But now, it appears that Huerta has stumbled upon a giant roadblock. An obstacle that could prove to be career ending if sudden changes are not made in time. Although I am in no position to be handing out advice to professional fighters, I feel as if I should give a simple suggestion to one’s struggle. So I have decided to give my opinion in what direction Huerta should go.
Although Huerta possesses average to mid-level wrestling and lacks technical striking, ‘El Matador’ makes up for it with fantastic scrambling, sensational submission defense, a durable chin, a tenacious and unyielding arsenal of combinations, great survival instincts, vicious ground and pound and an enormous heart. An array of attributes that describe a champion. Yet, two areas are currently holding him back.
Area of Issue #1: Striking
Timing and footwork. An elementary lesson we are all taught on day one of any combat sport. If one does not possess neither, then one shall never prevail on fight night no matter how talented you are. And Roger is no exception. In his recent outings, ‘El Matador’ has struggled to find his range, time his opponent’s strikes and keep his legs underneath him. Against Gray Maynard, Kenny Florian and Eddie Alvarez, Huerta found the grave consequence of brawling with lousy footwork. He was countered easily and defeated. Albeit Roger may never develop world class striking or boxing, Roger can find solace in being a nasty brawler with knock out power. But first things first, Roger still has to hone in on calibrating his strikes.
Area of Issue #2: Wrestling/Takedown Defense
Although it is Roger’s base, Huerta’s wrestling is in need of some tweaking. Evidence to that goes back to his match with Clay Guida. Roger was basically manhandled for two whole rounds. While he came out on top in that bout, Huerta suffered setback after setback shortly after to opponents Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard (and unranked Pat Curran down the road). It has become an issue of grand proportions. Roger cannot stop the takedown. And it is evident that it originates from his own stance when the transition is about to take place. It is a manageable and facile issue that can be sharpened and harden, if one is surrounded by the right people. Wrestling is becoming the dominant force in MMA and Huerta cannot let the evolution of the sport continue to past him any further.
1.) Change training camps. The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) seems like a great fit for Roger because of his style revolving around his wrestling and kickboxing skills. In addition, picking up some knowledge from Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu (which is basically Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu on steroids) couldn’t hurt either. With sparring partners like Josh Koscheck, Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch, Cung Le, Ricardo Cortes and Marius Zaromskis, and trainers like Dave Camarillo, Bob Cook, Ted Lucio, Derek Yuen and Javier Mendez, Huerta will be in a place where his talents can be sharpen by some the world’s best talent and strategists in combat sports today.
2.) Consider dropping down a division. The Featherweight division could seem like a great opportunity for a fresh start. Former opponents Leonard Garcia and Kenny Florian have since made the jump and it could be time for Huerta to do the same. There could be unseen variables if making this decision but the reward could be worth the risk. His size alone could provide some advantages, especially for a wrestler. Jose Aldo is the current champion and a dominating force but a possible chink in his armor could very well be an imposing wrestler with powerful ground and pound.
3.) Hire a sports psychiatrist. Prior to fight with Eddie Alvarez, Huerta made comments about his future if he were to lose the fight. Saying he couldn’t handle another loss at the time. The comments made me question whether ‘El Matador’ was in the proper place. All fighters have egos and when there is disruption or damage, a fighter no longer has confidence in his abilities. We were all witnesses to that when he faced off against Alvarez. He was not aggressive nor was he confident. Instead, he was timid and hesitant. A completely different Huerta we are accustomed to seeing. A few sessions with a sports psychiatrist could provide some positive results. The fight game is known to be 10% physical and 90% mental. Notable fighters who have acquired such services would be Frank Mir, Mirko Cro Cop, Paulo Filho, Alistair Overeem, Thiago Alves, BJ Penn, Andrei Arlovski, Quinton Jackson, etc and many others.
In conclusion, I’m going to end this article with a quote from one of his former opponents — Kenny Florian.
“That kid is tough as nails. Not once did he give up against me, even when he knew he was behind in the score cards. He just kept moving forward. I saw that look in his eye. You know that look. The look you give when you’re willing to die for something. He was born to be a champion, and if he makes some serious changes to his mechanics, the sky is the limit for this guy. I really hope he comes back from this loss stronger than ever. He’s still very young. I want to see him be a champion one day.”