Aug/Sep 2007

Aug/Sep 2007

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There are moments in our lives that stay with us forever. Sometimes they are sad, sometimes they are funny, or perhaps just unexpected, but when they happen, you know that you will never forget. For my fi rst column in FIGHT!, I want to tell you about one of those moments in my life, that took place inside the Octagon on Feb 4th 2007.

UFC 57 was headlined by the highly anticipated rubber match between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. On the under card was a fi ght between heavyweights Paul “The Headhunter” Buentello vs. Gilbert “El Peligro” Aldana. Paul Buentello was a fighter coming off a loss to then Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski. Because of this loss, he had fallen from fighting main events to preliminary fights, and badly needed a win. Buentello was a tough as nails fighter who had a very smooth and accomplished stand-up game, and was also an adequately versed grappler on the ground. At this point in his career, Paul had approximately 30 fights. He was a seasoned veteran.

Gilbert Aldana on the other hand, had only five professional fi ghts in his career, with all of them taking place in the Arizonabased promotion “Rage in the Cage.” Gilbert had won all of his fights by knockout and was known for his ferocity and punching power. Because of his lack of experience, it seemed that Aldana was being used to rebuild Buentello after his loss to Arlovski. Nobody told this to Aldana, so he came into the fi ght full of determination.

But somewhere between the weigh-ins and the walk towards the octagon, it happened as it always does. Fighters coming into the UFC for the first time are always hit with the enormity of the show. It is flat out scary; there is nothing that can prepare you for it and Gilbert Aldana was no different.

When I entered Gilbert’s dressing room, his manager, Roland Sarria, was trying his best to inspire him, telling him that he was going to knock out Paul. As usual, I went over the rules, answered any questions he had (which were few), and advised him on what I would be doing given certain situations that could occur in the fight. I wanted him to understand what I would look for, and do before I stopped a fight. I could sense that the pressure of the whole event was starting to weigh on him. This was his chance: if he could beat Paul it would be huge for him, and he knew it. Just before leaving, I looked at him and said “Relax and go out and do what you do best. Think of it as a Rage in the Cage back in Arizona.” He smiled and thanked me.

Upon touching gloves, both fighters came out swinging for the fences. Paul opened up with a spinning back kick that Gilbert used to shove Paul into the fence, and from there the war was on. Power is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of heavyweight fighters; they generate an enormous amount of it. One shot in the right place could end the fight. When you are inside the cage with the fighters, you can actually feel the thud of a body shot. You can hear not only the smack of the punch or kick landing, but also the air coming out of the fighter’s body. It is what separates heavyweight fighters from lightweights in the minds of fans; the power to end the fi ght in a blink of an eye. On this night, the fighters were exchanging powerful, devastating blows.

Gilbert was definitely game. He was hit with some vicious uppercuts that stunned him, but he always fought back and at one point hit Paul with a right hand that put Paul on his back. Gilbert’s weakness, however, was his conditioning. Often fighters will come into a fight well-conditioned, but the nerves and anxiety associated with the big show quickly take their toll and put the fighter into a cardiovascular tumble.

It has been said that fatigue makes cowards out of all of us. That is usually a true statement, but not for Gilbert Aldana. He was tired from about the three-minute mark of the first round. From that point on he was fighting on pure heart and determination, but fight on he did.

By the start of the second round, it was clear that Gilbert was tired and Paul was not. Paul launched a spinning back kick followed with a left high kick to the head, then hit Gilbert with a couple of good shots followed by a low leg kick that sent Gilbert to the canvas. Paul jumped on him and from side control began raining down punches and elbows. He then attempted a keylock and moved into position for an armbar. Gilbert was hanging in there, but was too tired to form any type of offense.

Fighters often talk during fights. Sometimes it’s done in a serious fashion where one fighter says something about the other fighter, other times its to egg on the opponent or occasionally even joking, but it happens more than most people realize.

On that night in the cage Paul was beating Gilbert brutally, and while on top of him, he stopped for a brief second and said, “Hey man, just give it up.” It was Gilbert’s reply that, now, will be one of those moments in time that will stay with me forever.

“Never, you’ll have to kill me.”

Although he was fighting in front of millions of people on TV, only two people in the world heard him say that. It has always stuck with me.

Here was a guy who took this fight on short notice, did not have a lot of time to train or get himself into the kind of shape needed to handle such a fast paced melee. He was facing a very talented and experienced heavyweight fighter in Paul Buentello, who was now hammering away at him from the side mount position and he knew he wasn’t getting out of it. Too tired to protect himself, he still wouldn’t give up. I had to stop the fight. I stopped it because I needed to protect Gilbert from himself as much as I needed to protect him from Paul. No retreat, no surrender. Gilbert Aldana was a warrior, and in his mind warriors didn’t give up.

Gilbert Aldana died today, a victim of drowning. He jumped into cold water to retrieve a shirt that had gone overboard. It is believed that vertigo, coupled with the cold water, confused Gilbert and sapped him of his strength. A husband, father, and warrior was lost. Rest in peace, Gilbert. There is no doubt that you were a warrior on earth and you will forever be one in heaven.

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Fighter: Gabriel Gonzaga

Nickname: “Napao” (“Big Nose” in Portuguese)

Height: 6’2 (188cm)

Weight: 242lbs (110kg)

Division: Heavyweight (205lbs – 265lbs)

Hometown: Rio de Janeiro. Brazil

Professional Record: 8 – 1 – 0 (Win – Loss – Draw)

Training Camp: Gabriel Gonzaga is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Wander Braga, and currently trains with Marco Alvan at Link BJJ in Ludlow, Massachusetts.

 

PRO MMA CAREER RECAP

Gonzaga began his professional MMA fighting career in January of 2003, competing in a K-1 event. He would go on a 3-0 run, culminating in a triangle choke submission of Hammer House fighter and UFC veteran Brandon Lee Hinkle.

To end 2003, Gonzaga faced fellow BJJ black belt and Abu Dhabi star Fabricio Werdum in the Jungle Fight promotion. The war raged into the third round before Werdum stopped Gonzaga with strikes. He remained in Brazil, scoring two more submission wins (one by sheer exhaustion) and then made his move to the US.

Gonzaga debuted in the Ultimate Fighting Championships in November of 2005, with a third round KO of XFO veteran Kevin Jordan. He was also scheduled to face The Ultimate Fighter season two contestant Brad Imes, but visa problems kept Gonzaga out of the fight.

Gabriel returned to stop American Top Team heavyweight Fabiano Scherner at UFC 60, submit beefed-up light heavyweight Carmelo Marrero at UFC 66, and put the proverbial cherry on top with a stunning first round KO of PRIDE FC golden boy Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at UFC 70. With the win over Cro Cop, Gabriel is 4-0 in the UFC and the #1 contender for Randy Couture’s UFC Heavyweight title.

 

STRIKING SKILLS

He wowed us with his KO of Mirko Filipovic, but he stopped two of his last three opponents with strikes as well. For a “Jiu-Jitsu guy,” Gonzaga has shown improved stand-up skills, and has obviously spent time in the cage to improve his overall fight game.

Marco Alvan also commented on Gonzaga’s striking, stating, “Gabriel is training Muay Thai daily with Elcio Machado, and all the combinations that they are working are fantastic. His hands are getting faster and heavier, his kicks…damn!”

GRAPPLING SKILLS

What can you say here? He’s a monster. After all, we are talking about a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, a four-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu National Champion, a five-time Sao Paulo State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion, a 2004 heavyweight BJJ Black Belt Grand Prix winner in 2004, an ADCC Trials Brazil Champion, and the second place finisher in ADCC 2005.

SUBMISSION SKILLS

Though he has five wins by submission on his record, Gonzaga has actually used Jiu-Jitsu technique to tap three of his MMA opponents. He successfully applied both an arm bar and triangle choke for the win.

If you ask his coach, you get a different answer. “His best submission in my view is the bear hug,” stated Marco Alvan. “Those who train with him know what I am talking about.” Alvan also says, “Some students in our camp call Napao a Sasquatch, saying that he should not fight humans. It sounds funny, but I agree.” Something tells me Sasquatch is Gonzaga’s secret nickname; it is doubtful anyone would call him that before they step on the mat with him.

CONDITIONING

Although a highly decorated grappler, stamina has been an issue for Gonzaga during his MMA career, but Gonzaga looks to be past most of the cardio demons that plagued some of his early performances. Going into the third round in his UFC debut may have actually helped, as his following three performances ended in the first round, or just moments into the second round.

HEART/PHYSICAL TOUGHNESS

Gonzaga is no stranger to dealing with an unsupportive crowd, or being the underdog. Denis Martins saw the Sao Paulo native compete in Rio de Janeiro. “What impressed me when I watched Gonzaga was the fact that, with no crowd rooting for him, he beat everybody like a calm, cool, and experienced fi ghter.” Recalled Martins.

To many journalists in the sport, Gonzaga has already done the unthinkable; he KO’d a top contender and beat him at his own game. When asked about the KO of Cro Cop, Marco Alvan shared that

“Gabriel felt awesome. For those who train with him daily, we know that pound-for-pound Gabriel was a much better fighter, and the fight went exactly like we planned. Gabriel did not land that kick by luck. He landed that kick with confidence that it was for the knockout. It surprised the whole world, but not him.”

THE FUTURE

To get a feel for where Gonzaga was headed, I asked the man himself. With his trainer interpreting, Gabriel stated that he “expects everything from Randy Couture. I respect Randy a lot, and as champion Randy deserves all the credit. That’s why I’m getting ready like never before. It is going to be the fight of my life.” Gabriel also feels that “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is going to make the difference” in the fight.

Since no analysis would be complete without the opinion of an expert in the field, we asked the opinion of Stephen Quadros, known as “The Fight Professor” to fans around the world.

“Gabriel Gonzaga may be the nightmare that all non-Jiu-Jitsu fighters had worried would eventually come on the scene: a damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don’t man who will dominate you standing, only to make you want to escape to where he is strongest, the ground! If Gonzaga keeps this up, he will become the next big thing.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

Gonzaga is only 28. He hasn’t hit his prime yet, and that is scary. He’s been through wars already. He’s been a highly decorated champion in other aspects of martial arts and he continues to evolve as a fighter. That’s bad news for the rest of the division.

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As everyone knows (at least I hope they know), I am the spokesman for the International Fight League (IFL). I host their show on MyNetworkTV, called IFL Battleground, with the beautiful Tiffany Fallon, and host International Fight League on FSN with the “voice of the IFL,” Kenny Rice.

I got involved with the IFL because, from the very beginning, I was impressed with how they treated their fighters, their coaches, assistant coaches, reporters… everybody.

The IFL is different than other organizations, mainly because they use a team concept. In order to provide fans with the best possible product, the IFL contacted several former fighters and champions. These fighters use the experience and knowledge they have gained over their legendary careers to train the younger fighters on their teams.

Each coach has five fighters plus an alternate under his wing, and those fighters are in five different weight classes, from light to heavy. The IFL competes in a ring. The warriors fight three four-minute rounds. In the rare case of a draw, a fourth round is added, and the winner of that round is declared the victor. When a team wins three of the five fights, they win the competition.

As in other team sports, such as basketball or football, the goal is to send your team to the playoffs. At the end of each season, a championship determines who has the best team in the league, or as the IFL would say, “who reigns supreme.”

Originally, I started out as head coach for the Anacondas. But when the IFL came to me and asked if I wanted to host their new shows, I had to do it. Why? Because I came to America to be in the entertainment business! It made the decision much easier knowing that Shawn Tompkins, the assistant coach who had helped me out a lot, would be able to step into my coaching shoes. Shawn is a phenomenal coach, and my guys already knew him from training, which made him an even more logical choice. He accepted the position and I moved into the booth.

At this moment, it looks like the Anacondas, Pitbulls, and Sabres are going to the playoffs, with the fourth spot still up for grabs. The championships will be decided on September 15th.

For more information about the IFL, please check out: www.ifl.tv. Also, don’t forget to tune in for IFL Battleground on Mondays on MyNetworkTV, and the IFL show on FSN on Fridays! I will be contributing a regular column to FIGHT! to keep you up to date on all the latest developments in the IFL, and also give you some behind the scenes access.

 

TEAMS OF THE IFL

Los Angeles Anacondas

Head Coach: Shawn Tompkins

New York Pitbulls

Head Coach: Renzo Gracie

Tokyo Sabres

Head Coach: Ken Yasuda

Quad Cities Silverbacks

Head Coach: Pat Miletich

So. California Condors

Head Coach: Marco Ruas

Nevada Lions

Head Coach: Ken Shamrock

Toronto Dragons

Head Coach: Carlos Newton

Seattle Tiger Sharks

Head Coach: Maurice Smith

Portland Wolfpack

Head Coach: Matt Lindland

Tucson Scorpions

Head Coach: Don Frye

San Jose Razorclaws

Head Coach: Frank Shamrock

Chicago Red Bears

Head Coach: Igor Zinoviev

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In the exploding world of MMA, it’s sometimes hard for fans to notice some of the amazing fighters on the verge of making it to the next level. We’ve enlisted the experts at MMAWeekly.com to take you deep inside the sport, and present you with some of the newest names to watch.

 

Name: Gina Carano

Nickname: “Conviction”

Professional Record: 4-0

Height: 5’8”

Weight: 135lbs

Discipline: Muay Thai

Notable Wins: Elaina Maxwell, Rosi Sexton

 

MMA is a man’s sport, right?

Beautiful and highly skilled Gina Carano would certainly say otherwise. The daughter of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Thomas Carano, Gina is quickly making a name for herself. Carano found her calling in martial arts while training under Master Toddy during the last three years. With a professional Muay Thai record of 12-1-1, the talented 25-year-old transitioned her kickboxing background into MMA and hasn’t looked back.

Carano fought in the very first sanctioned MMA female match in the state of Nevada, and has remained undefeated thus far in her career, with a record of 4-0. At EliteXC’s inaugural event, Carano and her opponent, Julie Kedzie, stole the show with an exciting fight in the only women’s match of the evening. Considered the fight of the night by many viewers and fans, Carano used her superior striking technique to entertain the crowd and earn a unanimous decision after three rounds.

Gina recently joined Team Randy Couture and the Extreme Couture Gym in Las Vegas. She has impressive wins over Elaina Maxwell and Rosi Sexton, and after her appearance on MSNBC’s Warrior Nation, Gina Carano has become one of the most recognizable faces in women’s MMA today. Training with some of the world’s best fighters, her opportunities and potential for improvement seem limitless.

According to Carano, “I just want to live up to expectations and do my best to be…or go beyond whatever I can be.”

 

Name: Alvin Robinson

Nickname: “Kid”

Professional Record: 8-1

Height: 5’9”

Weight: 155lbs

Discipline: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Notable Wins: Luke Caudillo

 

A 4th degree brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Royce Gracie affiliate John Crouch, Alvin Robinson is one of the most promising 155-pound fighters today. The Ring of Fire Lightweight Champion had a good year in 2006, winning three of four fights.

Aggressive on the ground, Robinson shoots in on his opponents, and actively works for a tapout. All eight of his victories have come by way of submission. In addition to his ground prowess, Robinson isn’t afraid to exchange blows with his opponents and throw an occasional superman punch. Since turning pro in 2005, Alvin has averaged four fights a year, and continues to be one of the busiest and most successful lightweights today.

“I try to make my game well-rounded, and I want to be able to give an exciting fight on my feet and on the ground,” commented Robinson. “I actually like standing up, throwing punches, and everything, but it’s just a little more dangerous because all it takes is one punch [to end a fight].”

At TKO 25, Robinson was scheduled to face Brazilian Top Team fighter Fabio Holanda.

“I was fighting for TKO, an organization that had sent several fighters to the UFC. I thought if I did well there, it would lead to a chance in the UFC.” Unfortunately for Robinson, he would suffer his first professional loss. Since that loss, Robinson has rebounded with three straight victories and a renewed sense of confidence.

As for career goals, Robinson wasn’t shy when it came to stating where he thought he’d be in the future. “If I can get into the UFC and win two or three fights in dominating fashion, I’d like to get a title fight, and this time next year I’d like to have UFC gold or be pretty close to it,” said Alvin. “I want to be considered one of the best fighters in the world at 155 or 145, and when I get there, I will take on all challengers, everybody, I don’t care who it is.”

 

Name: Donald Cerrone

Nickname: “Cowboy”

Professional Record: 6-0

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 155lbs

Discipline: Muay Thai

Notable Wins: Nate Mohr, Anthony Njokuani

 

Simply known as “Cowboy” by his fans, Donald Cerrone is one of the popular fighters in Denver, Colorado. Prior to his MMA career, Cerrone compiled a perfect record of 22-0-1 as a kickboxer. Ironically, all of the former pro bull rider’s MMA victories have come by way of submission.

“I’m a stand-up fi ghter, but MMA has forced me to learn the ground game,” said Cerrone. “When the guys want to go to the ground, we’ll go to the ground. If they want to keep it standing, we’ll stand. So I’ll kind of take it to wherever the other guy wants to take the fight.”

Walking into the ring wearing his signature cowboy hat, Cerrone knows how to entertain the crowd with his athleticism and a striking style similar to Duane “Bang” Ludwig.

Possessing fast and powerful legs, Cowboy is capable of finishing a fight with a high kick. Training with Greg Jackson and guys like Nate Marquardt, Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, Joey Villasenor, and others at Jackson’s Submission Grappling in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cerrone has developed into a well-rounded fighter. Undefeated after six fights, Cowboy has garnered new fans and recognition with each appearance. Not one to rush things, Cerrone is taking his career one step at a time.

“I just see where things drop and whatever happens, I’m not pushing anything. I just let what happens, happen,” explained the Colorado resident. “I don’t want to jump too soon and I don’t want to be held back too long. So I’m going to let my manager [do his job], see whatever contracts happen, and kind of let God’s will do his thing.”

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He walked into his father’s place, looked him in the eye, and immediately knew his father was high on drugs. The fifteen-year-old told his dad he was leaving; he was going to Austin in hope of a better future. He waited for some reaction, anything. But none came. At his father’s apathy, Roger felt himself tearing up.

“I remember looking him in the eye and saying, ‘I’m going to become something great, something huge,’” Roger recounts. “I told him, ‘you just lost something amazing, I’m going to show you.’”

 

Some fighters will look you in the eye, and tell you with sincerity and conviction that stepping into an octagon is the scariest thing you can ever do in your life. But there is one who can tell you that the fight doesn’t always take place in a cage, with a referee and rules. Its the fight for survival: being abandoned by your parents, living in a war zone, being homeless – all before you are 12 years old.

You want to see the American Dream? He stands 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 155 pounds, with a happy smile and an angry right hand. He’s 24 years old, and he fights for a living. His name is Roger Huerta, and he is a rising star in the UFC. A potential future champion, nothing that can happen to him in the cage scares him. Nothing.

Huerta’s early childhood was reasonably normal. But everything changed when his parents’ marriage disintegrated, the result of an affair by his father. It devastated his mother, who struggled and failed to overcome the betrayal. The fallout from the divorce affected not only her; it altered each of their lives forever. Over the next several years, Roger would go on a torturous journey through what should have been the carefree part of youth.

Shortly after their parents split, the first abuse of Roger and his sister Andrea began, eventually resulting in Child Protective Services removing both children from the home.

As is often the case, this began a tragic odyssey that ended in the separation of a brother and sister and the disintegration of a family.

Huerta’s father, Rogelio, regained custody of the kids and brought some semblance of stability back to their lives, but it was short lived. Soon after, the children’s mother reappeared. Roger and Andrea were abducted and taken to her war-ravaged homeland of El Salvador.

By that time, the country’s civil war, which had lasted for 12 years, claimed 75,000 lives and forced over a million people to flee the country, was nearing its last days. Still, it was no safe haven for children looking for a place to call home. Their mother returned to the U.S., leaving the children behind with her parents.

“My grandparents never let me out of the house,” he remembers. “I never really knew why. I was too young. But every time we heard loud noises, we’d have to go under the bed. It turns out they were gunshots and bombs. It happened all the time.”

A few months later, with no explanation, his mother returned to El Salvador, collected Roger and Andrea, dropped them on their father’s doorstep in Pharr, Texas, and walked out of their lives forever.

By then, Rogelio had turned to drugs. He married a woman who was abusive toward Roger and Andrea. As his downward spiral continued, he lost interest in his children and ultimately skipped town. Roger’s stepmother, feeling no sense of responsibility to a boy that was not her biological son, threw him out of her home.

He was in the sixth grade and alone, forced to rely on the generosity of friends and acquaintances. Going home became as simple as an available couch, as dangerous as joining a gang for shelter, or as pitiful as climbing onto a rooftop to keep from sleeping on the streets.

“Deep down, I was hurting. I was always thinking, ‘I don’t want to feel this. I’m tired of this. I want a home, I want a family,’” he says. “It really sucked and I never knew how it was going to end. I was always praying, saying, ‘God, get me out of this.’ I realized the only option I had was school.’”

Huerta’s clear vision amid the violence, drugs, and poverty that surrounded him was stunningly mature, but his reasoning was simple survival. At school, he would have peace, structure and two warm meals each day. It wasn’t simply a place of learning; it was a sanctuary.

Roger received help from an unlikely source: a gang leader he was forced to live with in the downtrodden Las Milpas section of town. According to Roger, “his name was Joel and he was a major drug dealer. He would buy me clothes and school supplies; tell me to keep going to school and to stay away from drugs.”

In the classrooms and gymnasiums of Pharr’s Memorial Junior High School, his bright eyes, easy smile, and athleticism captured the attention of people around him from the beginning. He became friendly with a schoolmate named Ricky King and they became inseparable. He began staying over his friend’s house, and Ricky’s mother Maria essentially became a surrogate mother, finding out bits and pieces of Roger’s heartbreaking story with every visit.

Eventually, Maria petitioned the court for legal custody of Roger. His biological parents were subpoenaed, but neither bothered to appear in court. As a result, Maria became his legal guardian. According to Maria, “I knew he needed love and I was happy to be there for him. He’s a special person. From the day I met him, he always used to say, ‘I want to be somebody.’”

He began to thrive in the school environment, excelling in sports. A few years later, at Crockett High, he was playing nose tackle on the varsity football team, despite weighing only 160 pounds. Roger says,

“I had so much energy and aggression in me, so I’d take it out in football. I’d be popping kids, running them over. I was very fast, so I’d get right through the line. It got to the point they were double-teaming me. People started asking, ‘who is this kid?’ And

I guess my past started coming out.”

Jo Ramirez was one of the teachers at Crockett High whom Roger approached for advice about the college admissions process. He was a senior, and though an injury had put an end to his football career, he’d turned his focus to wrestling and had been making waves in the sport.

Ramirez took him under her wing and helped him in his collegiate search. His story, and efforts to succeed against such incredible odds, struck a chord with her. The more she learned about him, the more determined she was to help.

“The first time he’d tell me stories, he’d have tears in his eyes, and I’d have tears in mine,” she recalls. “I would’ve done anything to help him after hearing those stories.”

She eventually helped him gain acceptance into Minnesota’s Augsburg College, a private school with a wrestling program that boasts 10 NCAA Division III championships. But despite all he had been through and accomplished, Huerta’s biggest emotional struggle came that first year in Minnesota.

“If I wasn’t depressed growing up, I sure did get depressed that year,” he refle
cts.

He struggled with having to start all over again in a new place, in addition to be forced to adapt to a drastic climate change. He also wondered if he’d have any roots to return to in Texas.

And then, one fall day, he got a phone call from Ramirez. “I just asked him, ‘do you want to be a part of my family, legally?’ I told him, ‘I would like to adopt you.’”

With one phone call, Roger’s world came together. He belonged somewhere, with Jo Ramirez and her seven children, all of whom were lawyers, teachers, and other successful professionals. School and wrestling quickly fell into place. He then took interest in the world of mixed martial arts and became a quick study.

Now, just a few years later, he’s 18-1-1 with an eight fight winning streak and considered a rising star in the sport. His April 2007 win over Leonard Garcia was filled with his trademark nonstop action, and stole the show at UFC 69. His good looks and easy smile, coupled with his jaw-dropping talent, could make him the next great Latino superstar.

“Roger Huerta is an amazing fighter and very marketable for us. As far as us going out and looking for a Hispanic fighter, he’s a dream come true,” says UFC President Dana White. “We couldn’t be happier with him. He had a war in his last fight, and those are the kinds of fights that will take him to next level.”

But he can’t go to the next level without remembering the past.

His final words to his father have forever echoed in his mind. That encounter has continually driven him forward, whether it is on the football field, the wrestling mat, in the classroom, or the octagon. And despite his brutal training schedule, he will finish his business management degree at Augsburg this summer.

“Society makes too many excuses for too many people,” says Dave Menne, a former UFC middleweight champ, and Roger’s first MMA coach.

“It’s sad when things go wrong, but you’re your own person. You have the ability to define who you are, and he’s taken the opportunity do that, which is probably what everybody should do. Maybe it shouldn’t be so much a surprise as something to celebrate.”

Roger Huerta is the son of a drug addict father and a runaway mother. He survived abandonment, homelessness, poverty, and a war. And one day soon, he swears he will be a UFC champion. Some naysayers may doubt his technical skills, or believe there are too many good fighters in his way. But think about what he has overcome, and try to believe that he can’t do it.

Hard to do, isn’t it? Just like the friends who gave him shelter, the women who opened their homes to him, the teachers and coaches who guided him, and the gang leader with a good heart, those who hear his story can see his potential. Not believing in Roger Huerta is almost like not believing in hope itself.

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