Don’t hate Roger Huerta because he is beautiful. He is a rare and blessed man.
He can get punched in the face, accrue ugly cuts and bruises that would ruin the month for most shmoes with coital ambitions, yet retain the striking good looks that buckle the knees of Hollywood executives like a Muay Thai leg kick.
Yes, “El Matador” has movie-star handsomeness. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has helped make that plain for everyone to see. In the past year or so, the powerful promotion rightly exploited Huerta’s drawing power by hitching its publicity machine to his tattooed torso, generating significant interest (largely among females, Spanish-speaking fanatics and at least one buddy of mine who refuses to admit his man-crush) that helped produce a groundbreaking appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
So, it came as no surprise this week when Huerta, 6-1 as an Octagon operative, said he may take a hiatus from busting less-attractive faces in favor of showing his acting chops. The Minnesotan opted against a new, five-fight contract with the UFC (he has one bout left on his current pact), saying he wants to pursue work in films.
I don’t care how prideful, diligent and devoted a fighter is to his craft, which happens to be the manliest thing a man can do. When an opportunity presents itself to a red-blooded male to, among other things, fire fake guns, serve as a model for computer generated imagery, lock lips with starlets, participate in choreographed fights scenes that make him look like an all-powerful hero, and earn lumps of cash in exchange for reciting a few cheesy lines, he would be a letdown to his entire gender if he said, “Nah, I’d rather choke a dude.”
Huerta is just 25 years old, and while he might not have reached the zenith of MMA in his stellar 23-fight career (20-2-1), it’s clear he is capable of achieving notoriety and success even without wearing the UFC’s lightweight championship belt.
Such fame flexibility should be embraced in MMA circles. Someone like Huerta puts a pretty face on a sport that’s suffered from ignorant stereotypes and stared longingly at the pillar of “mainstream acceptance” since its bloody inception.
This might be another step in that direction, since most other athlete-actors have come from traditional sports like football (Jim Brown, Brian Bosworth, O.J. Simpson, etc.) and basketball (Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Rick Fox, etc.). After skimming a “Who’s Who” MMA roster, Huerta has the requisite features for crossover appeal (no, out of respect for my heterosexuality, I will not list them), whether he can act or not.
And, with apologies to “The Natural,” Randy Couture’s appearances on shows like “The Unit” probably won’t cause many uninformed viewers to wonder, “Hmm … who is this rugged-yet-stiff, cauliflower-eared actor, and where did he come from?” Couture — also a minor league thespian — has many backers who will check out whatever acting work he does, but it’s unlikely that his on-screen appearances will spark another kind of cult following.
Putting Huerta’s pristine mug on a screen, conversely, might be slightly more buzz-worthy. His age and appearance could create powerful currents, even if he turns out to be more Vin Diesel than Leonardo DiCaprio. Next thing you know, John and Sally Teenager will Google this unknown actor, discover his true occupation, click the link to UFC.com and – presto! – MMA has infiltrated another two prospective fans.
Some might hear about Huerta’s future plans and immediately retreat to thoughts of his controversial comments in a magazine interview last summer about fighter compensation within the UFC. He sounded off about being underpaid and overworked, quotes that appeared harmful to his relationship with UFC brass before he smoothed it over. With that in mind, it’s easy to believe Huerta’s acting desires are probably all about money.
To that, I say damn right Huerta’s acting desires are probably all about money.
Many pro fighters struggle to get by on winnings and sponsorships as they endure daily beatings and strenuous training. So, there’s nothing wrong with considering all options and looking out for No. 1, as tacky as that sounds.
If that means leaving the career that launched your star for another enterprise that could send you to greater heights and a richer life, the decision is a no-brainer.
And if Huerta can’t find fitting roles or steady work as an actor/model, he might want to team up with a writer and pen a screenplay about his life, a story filled with enough adversity and triumph to fill theatres.
There is great risk involved in Huerta’s decision to break from the sport, though. He could chase an aspiration that, years later, he may concede he’ll never reach. Then, he could return to MMA just in time to realize that old ride has passed him by, too.
It’s all conjecture, of course. Who knows if Huerta will make it as a celebrity and divert more well-deserved attention to MMA. That won’t be up to me, or even my demographic.
It’ll likely be up to a faction of people — which is to say women — that’s responsible for the atrocity of Vin Diesel’s stardom.