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Arona makes return, Huerta goes AWOL, Buentello finds new home

Friday marks the start of, what should be, an interesting weekend in MMA. There aren't any major titles on the line, no elite fighters competing. But veterans, prospects and guys just trying to make a buck are lining up to fight across every region of the U.S. Throw in a handful of cards in South America, including Brazil's most ambitious in years, as well as the usual fare in Japan, and there appears to be a little something for everybody.

In Rio de Janeiro, Ricardo Arona, a former top contender at 205 pounds who, at his best, was one of the most physical light heavyweights in the sport, returns after a 28-month hiatus to fight for the first time in his home country. Bitetti Combat 4 represents a significant shift for mixed martial arts in the emerging South American power, whose fighters have endured their share of struggles despite consistently competing at a world championship level.

Arona (13-5), a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt favoring controlling and ground-and-pound, was certainly among that group. Yet, five fights with the Pride organization in 2005 took their toll. A bad loss against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the finals of Pride's 205-pound tournament was the first of three defeats in four fights. And when Pride went out of business, so did Arona.

Arona's return -- the first time he's competing in a cage -- against American veteran Marvin Eastman should tell a lot about what the Brazilian has left. "The Brazilian Tiger" has expressed his desire to fight in the U.S., particularly in the UFC, where he said he'd like a crack at Lyoto Machida. That's a long ways off. But I wouldn't put it past the 31-year-old Arona to, once again, be considered a dangerous fighter in that division.

Wondering why Roger Huerta (20-2-1) is nearly invisible leading up to his important fight versus Gray Maynard on Wednesday in Oklahoma City?

The embattled UFC lightweight, who has refused to sign a contract extension with Zuffa and is eyeing opportunities in acting and modeling, asked his management to put a moratorium on media appearances. He might do a few things in the days leading up to the fight, but Huerta's representative Jeff Clark told SI.com on Thursday that the fighter felt distractions hampered preparation for his last bout in the UFC against Kenny Florian. He wasn't going to let it happen again.

The loss -- Huerta's first in the UFC -- forced him to rethink how he prepared for fights. For most mixed martial artists, that implies changing things up, getting out of the norm. Huerta, however, was already doing that, and instead he focused on a return to his roots: spending this training camp in Minneapolis, Minn., with his longtime trainer and former UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne.

The 26-year-old Huerta has only been out of the gym for a day, for a voiceover gig for the movie Tekken three weeks ago. Walking around at 163 pounds, "El Matador" appears to be in the best shape of his career, said Clark. Against Maynard, in the most important fight of his career, Huerta will need to be.

Paul Buentello finally has a sense of where he'll fight next. One of the many victims caught up in the collapse of Affliction -- incidentally, most fighters were eventually made right by the T-shirt company -- secured his contractual freedom Thursday.

When Affliction folded, the UFC purchased the rights to several contracts, and Buentello's was among them. However, the heavyweight's deal included a provision allowing Strikeforce the right to promote him. Buentello and Strikeforce went back and forth during contract negotiations, and after much deliberation, the fighter concluded his best chance for security and prosperity would be with the UFC.

Buentello's decision is easy to understand. Strikeforce appears to be a good fight promotion company with quality backing, but for guys like Buentello, who have signed up for fights only to have the rug pulled out from under them at the most inopportune moments, the UFC provides an opportunity too secure to turn down.

It didn't help that Buentello was being represented in contract negotiations by Bob Cook, one of his trainers at American Kickboxing Academy who also serves as a matchmaker for Strikeforce. The relationship appears to be a significant conflict, and something Strikeforce should address.

During talks with Strikeforce for a new contract, Buentello confirmed he was offered a chance to fight Fedor Emelianenko. Yet, from his perspective, the money being offered -- $100,000 to show, another $50,000 for the win -- wasn't what he expected for the most important and toughest bout of his career.

Buentello declined to comment on whether Cook's actions as an intermediary between the fighter and the promoter put him at a disadvantage. In the end, the "Headhunter" took matters into his own hands to secure his professional freedom. After Sherdog.com broke the news on Thursday, Buentello said other fighters called him wondering how he managed to pull it off.

Specifics of a new contract with the UFC need ironing out, but Buentello (27-10) remains confident it will get done soon. Most importantly for the 34-year-old, he can finally look forward to the days when all he has to worry about is fighting again.

• Long considered "Arona-lite," former WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho continues his attempt at resurrection against the well-travelled AlexSchoenauer. And a rematch of a heavyweight war in 2008 between PedroRizzo and Jeff Monson is worth watching if you can.

• Shark Fights 6 (yes, these promotional names are terrible) caught my eye for the main event. Dave Herman is a fairly athletic heavyweight who didn't seem to care or know much about training and technique during the first 13 fights of his career. That, of course, was foolish and it finally caught up to him this January in Japan.

Herman was developed by ProElite, but like many fighters he was forced to the sidelines when the company folded. His potential is still there. He needs to put away Don Frye -- yup, that Don Frye (20-7-1) from the early UFC days -- without too much trouble if the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Herman (14-1) hopes to regenerate interest and earn another crack at fighting for a bigger promotion.

FOWLKES: Maynard's time is now

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