(Courtesy of Chad Hinton’s Myspace.)
Four years ago, an interviewer asked Chad Hinton who he’d like to fight. At that point, the 34-year-old Cincinnati fighter was just beginning his MMA career, but the gym owner and father of two thought he’d aim high.
“I said Clay Guida or Roger Huerta,” Hinton said. “And, long story short, on April 8 fighting Roger Huerta becomes a reality.”
Hinton (6-0) will face Huerta, the former UFC star and Sports Illustrated cover boy, Thursday in the first round of the Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight tournament in Hollywood, Fla.
Huerta (20-3-1) became the face of the organization before he threw a punch. He guarantees high ratings and interest and has crossover appeal. Hinton, now 38, is supposed to play the role of sacrificial lamb; not only an underdog, but — in terms of Bellator’s marketing of Huerta — undesirable.
“I feel very fortunate to be in this position,” Hinton said. “To me, it’s like winning the lottery. I’d have to fight four or five times in a bigger organization to fight a guy of Roger’s caliber.”
A standout wrestler in Ohio, Hinton went to Wright State on scholarship out of high school. But Wright State cut its program and Hinton passed the next five years entering open tournaments and trying to remain close to the sport. But he met his wife Lynne in 1997 and entered a new phase of life. They settled down, had children and seemed destined for a normal Midwest existence.
But the couple remained committed to fitness and, by chance, a kickboxing class rekindled Hinton’s desire to compete. A wrestler since age 10 and a boxer since high school, Hinton found immediate success as a kickboxer. He entered a Sanshou tournament at the 2006 Arnold Classic and won his age group and open division.
“I was named MVP of the tournament,” Hinton said.
After the Arnold, Hinton’s life sped up. Less than five months later, he had his own gym and he started to wonder how he would fare against the MMA fighters he watched on television. With Father Time marching on, Hinton decided it was now or never.
“It is a little different when you go into a cage and they lock the door,” Hinton admits. “When you are in a ring or a wrestling mat, you can get out. You can’t do that in a cage. Once they locked the door, my objective was just to win as fast as possible.”
Forty nine seconds later, Hinton had his first win. Soon he was competing for two rival regional organizations.
“Being an older guy, I wanted to take all the opportunities I could,” he said.
Hinton gained a truckload of fans and ran his record to 6-0 before catching the eye of MMA agents Ken Pavia and Nate Brodnax. They signed him with Bellator, but Hinton was skeptical when they told him he could be fighting Roger Huerta.
“I took it with a grain of salt,” Hinton said. “I’ve seen things fall through before.”
Promoters are full of empty promises on the local circuit. Hinton’s opponents have changed several times in the days before a fight and purported battles with “name” fighters never materialized.
“There was some speculation and I was told to keep my mouth shut about it so I did,” Hinton said. “I found out that it was really going to happen about three weeks ago.”
Since then, Hinton has continued to train and focus on his opponent.
“I know he’s been to Thailand to clean up his Muay Thai,” Hinton said. “He’s a good wrestler. I’m sure he has been training like a maniac. But I do expect good things. I don’t want to give anything away, but we see some holes. We see some instinctive mistakes.”
On Tuesday, Hinton was in good spirits despite a weight cut he described as brutal. If the pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become a household name overnight is weight on him, it doesn’t show.
“To me, it’s not that big of a deal,” Hinton said. “Roger Huerta is just another human being. Maybe that is just my age or maturity, but I have a wife, two children and a career.
“The day before weigh ins, you think about a lot of things. You think about what happens after the fight. I think about having dinner with my wife after her putting up with my training and cutting weight and being a total jerk.”