Last year, around autumn, Roger Huerta began playing around with the idea of a comeback. This was a very different Roger Huerta from the man who mixed martial arts devotees remember being soccer kicked into oblivion at a 10,000-seat stadium in Kuala Lumpur; the same man who’d once graced the cover or Sports Illustrated and had been Dana White’s own dream come true, before the pressures of celebrity collapsed upon the fighter and led him down a path of diligent self-sabotage.
That man, Huerta reflected, was a lost soul. A wanderer in a state of perpetual unrest. He was searching for something unattainable, and ultimately it took one of the sport’s most visceral knockouts to help him understand it. But that Huerta is gone, a half-forgotten nightmare, a nomad who no longer exists. In truth, the man who now wears Huerta’s skin is one reborn, a beacon of positivity who chased away his demons and found true happiness on the shores of Phuket, Thailand. Absent are the sleepless nights and restless mornings. Huerta’s days now are split between the ocean waves and the mats at Tiger Muay Thai, where the 31-year-old serves as an assistant MMA instructor.
It’s on those very mats, with those very students, that Huerta last year rediscovered his passion for the game that raised him, and it’s on those very ocean waves that the thought of a comeback slowly blossomed from a curious idea into a full-fledged reality. If it’s meant to be a one-off, it’s meant to be a one-off. If it’s not meant to be a one-off, it’s not meant to be a one-off, Huerta says. Before, I was always planning for the future. When I was in the UFC, I was always like, ‘I want to set records.’
I fought five times in 2007 and won all those fights. I was obviously so close to getting a title shot, and I just kept thinking about the future, future, future. When in that time, man, I was on the cover of f–king Sports Illustrated. Come on, I should’ve given myself a f–king pat on the back for that one back then. But I never did. I never did. What I try to do now is really pay attention to my surroundings. How I live, the people the around me.
The thing is, better sooner than later. I’m 31 years old, I’ve got plenty of life, right? Who knows, anything could happen tomorrow. Just as he did last year, Huerta speaks often of living in the moment. Call it a byproduct of opportunity wasted, or call it the existential learnings of one who’s feasted on far too much inner grief, but at least know that these are matters with which Huerta has submitted careful study into not only understanding, but following; a sort of self-trained self-awareness that turned a troubled life around for the better. I am blessed to be in the position I’m at, he says. I live in a beautiful island and I love doing what I do. Mixed martial arts, it’s a passion for me.
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