Roger Huerta’s record might say he’s returning to Bellator on a two-fight winning streak, but he doesn’t see it that way.
The 34-year-old lightweight last got his hand raised at a Phoenix FC show in Dubai this past December, but his path to victory was far from satisfactory, as opponent Hayder Hassan got himself disqualified by cracking Huerta with illegal elbows to the back of the head less than a minute into the second stanza.
Given the matchup’s unceremonious ending, Huerta’s understandably relieved at the opportunity to get back in the win column on his own terms when he faces fellow UFC alum Benson Henderson at Bellator 196 on Friday.
“I don’t really consider that a win,” Huerta recently told theScore. “I feel like I was starting to pick up the pace, starting to do my thing and really pick my opponent apart, and he decided to (hit) me with banned elbows to the back of the head. He did what he did and that’s how it ended. I’m looking forward to fighting a respectable guy, a guy that’s not gonna try to throw any cheap shots.”
That said, Huerta’s mandate isn’t limited to putting some distance between himself and the DQ in his first Bellator bout in more than seven years. After fielding an allegedly substandard offer to rejoin the Scott Coker-led outfit, the veteran ultimately opted to prove he’s worth more by agreeing to a one-fight deal. But in addition to cashing in on the gamble, Huerta chiefly wants to prove to himself that all the toil he’s put into a career that’s taken him from the Octagon to the cover of Sports Illustrated to the shores of Thailand to Los Angeles – where he’s currently based – has been worth it.
“Not necessarily for the way the (last) fight ended, but for my own personal clarity. I want to put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’ve put in 15 years of my time, my life into this sport, into training, into fighting, and it’s really just … you need that satisfaction, that ‘Hey man, everything you’ve done has been working.’ That’s mainly it, not just that one fight.”
Huerta may have returned stateside with a renewed sense of overall purpose, but he isn’t looking past Friday’s bout with Henderson, which he aims to see through with a statement victory.
“I definitely do have short-term goals and I have long-term goals,” he said. “My short-term goal is defeating Benson Henderson in a clear manner. I wouldn’t like to win by decision, I’d like to win by TKO – doesn’t really matter which round it comes – then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Huerta’s return to the Bellator cage will cap Friday’s bill in Budapest, Hungary.