Huerta clarifies recent controversial comments
MINNEAPOLIS – UFC president Dana White tends to tolerate fighters who publicly complain about their contracts about as well as he does a tack in his shoe. When he starts comparing those who do dare to challenge him publicly to his ex-light heavyweight champion and favorite whipping boy, Tito Ortiz, it’s a sure sign he’s about to erupt.
White was interviewed by a Toronto radio station on Wednesday when he heard for the first time that lightweight Roger Huerta had expressed unhappiness with his contract. Predictably, White didn’t take it well. A day later, he said Huerta’s comments were “almost Tito-like,” which is about as big an insult as White can dish out.
Huerta faces the most significant fight of his life Saturday at UFC 87 at the Target Center when he takes on Kenny Florian in a highly anticipated lightweight bout. A battle with White is the last thing Huerta needs on the eve of the toughest fight of his life, but Huerta, who survived one of the most difficult childhoods imaginable, said he’s prepared so well for the fight that nothing will distract him.
But Huerta also pointed out that his comments to Fight! Magazine writer Neal Taflinger were taken out of context by others. And while White has been interviewed incessantly about Huerta’s “contract problems,” nowhere in the eight-page article does Huerta say something like, “I am underpaid and I’m not happy with it.”
The most inflammatory quote is near the end, where he talks about his future. “The truth is, I don’t really care if I fight in the UFC or somewhere else,” Huerta told Taflinger. He went to say he wants to fight “for a company that is as loyal to me as I am to them.”
It’s hardly controversial stuff, but in the UFC, where White has such great control over everything, even a blip like that causes headlines.
Huerta didn’t back away from the comments but said they’ve been widely misinterpreted. “The misconception is, and the thing that people are getting wrong, is that (I realize) I’m blessed I was part of the UFC and I’m blessed with what they’ve done for me,” Huerta said softly amid a din Thursday following a public news conference at Mall of America. “I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in if it weren’t for them. They’ve done so much for the sport. They’re the guys in the forefront, sanctioning MMA and showing everybody what we’re like as MMA fighters and that we’re professional athletes, too. They’re the ones who were once $40 million in the hole and they’re the ones who are putting up the money to build this sport.
“All I was saying,” Huerta added, head down, staring at the floor, “is that from an economic point of view, I have to think of economics. I was a business major. You have to think that way. I think about taxes and my Roth IRA and my retirement plan and, ‘How long can I do this for?’ I know I’m not Randy Couture and I know I can’t be 44 years old and still compete. I gave myself a five-year plan to do what I can and that’s what I was talking about.”
He went on to lavish praise on the UFC. He called the company “amazing” and said he understands that if it weren’t for the UFC, MMA wouldn’t have exploded the way it has. “The only thing is, they’re a business and they want to keep their expenses low and their income high, and in that, they’re no different than me,” Huerta said. “If you work for Dell and you were offered a lot more money to come over to Apple and build Macs, the economics of it and the financial aspects of it would play a part. This is the same thing.”
He said he understands people will interpret his words the way they want. He said he doesn’t regret anything and, when asked if he were quoted accurately, he paused and said, “I’m not sure,” before quickly adding, “I’m not taking anything back.”
Huerta isn’t the kind to hold back on much of anything, which is why his fight with Florian is probably the one on the card most fans are anxious to see.
Huerta has gone 18-0 with a no contest since his only loss, to Ryan Schultz in 2004. He’s won all six of his UFC fights, moving within two of the UFC record for most consecutive wins, which is shared by Royce Gracie and Jon Fitch.
But in Florian, he’ll face a man nearly as successful as he, with a more well-rounded game and more experience against big-time opposition.
Huerta took off eight months after defeating Clay Guida in December, putting his game back together. He trained with some of the elite fighters in the world, including welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who was gushing over Huerta.
“He’s one of the greatest fighters in the world,” St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre said one of the things that impressed him most about Huerta was that no matter how well Huerta did something, he was never satisfied. He always wanted to do just a bit better.
That, said St. Pierre, is what separates Huerta from most of the fighters in the world. “He just wants to work and work and work and is constantly looking to find a way to get better,” St. Pierre said.
He won’t get a title shot if he wins – as White originally said would be the prize for the winner – but rather will be expected to fight once more in a non-title bout. Huerta has two fights left on his contract, including Saturday’s, then will be a free agent. But if he performs on Saturday against an elite talent like Florian, his next contract will look significantly different no matter who his next employer is.
“I’m honestly not worrying about my contract or anything like that, because I hired great people to do that for me so I wouldn’t have to,” Huerta says. “And I understand this is a performance business. It’s up to me to perform and that’s why I’ve done what I’ve done over the last few months. I want to hold up my end of this thing, which is the fighting end. If I do, everything else is going to be fine.”