Before he ever stepped into the Octagon, Roger Huerta's appearance at UFC 87 was shadowed by controversy. In the August issue of FIGHT! magazine, the popular lightweight took a not-so-subtle jab at his employer's rate of compensation for fight and non-fight related activities. Huerta cited $50 a day per diems, thin margins between fight purses and training expenses, and free appearances expected of him from sponsors as the main reasons for his discontent.
"Why do you think I don't do PR for the UFC any more?" Huerta said in the magazine interview.
Fallout from the interview added another dimension to his UFC 87 bout with Kenny Florian. Huerta had two fights left on his contract. A win gave him a nice bargaining chip at the negotiating table, while a loss potentially put his future in jeopardy.
Following the article's release, UFC President Dana White was quick to counter Huerta's claims, and said if anything, the outcome of the fight would have a lot to do with how happy Huerta was with his next contract.
Huerta did not come out ahead on Saturday night. Florian, an original contestant on the seminal reality series The Ultimate Fighter, fought a smart fight, never allowing Huerta to build any offensive momentum. When Florian struck, he scored points then circled away from danger.
Now removed from the question of the fight's outcome, Huerta addressed the controversy at the UFC 87 post-fight press conference. But before he did so, he took a long, measured pause in front of reporters, smiling.
"I never bashed the UFC," Huerta said, his smile fading. "I was never saying that the UFC is bad. If it wasn't for them, if it wasn't for their $40 million in the hole, you guys wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be looked at as professional athletes."
Huerta implied that the interview's contents, while not disputed, didn't necessarily reflect the intent of his thoughts on how the UFC pays its fighters. He is grateful for all the UFC has done for him, but wants to make the right business decisions. In clarifying his comments, Huerta may have considered the possibility of playing the field when it comes to the next organization he fights for.
"All I was saying is that from a financial point of view, basically like a retirement plan or whatever, that I can only do this for so many years," Huerta said. "You saw the fight today. Look at [Jon] Fitch. Look at myself. As a retirement plan, we can only do this for so long, and all I was saying, is that as a business decision -- and you can't argue about this -- it's in all businesses. If another company offers you something better for you and your family, you would do that. It's the logical thing to do, and that's all I was saying."
Whether he regretted the interview or not, Huerta's post fight comments walked a very thin line between apology and vindication. His bargaining chip is now gone, but he's still a marketable commodity -- that much is sure. After the fight, Florian was effusive in his praise for the Los Angeles native, saying he was the future of the sport. Huerta has one fight left for the UFC. Now, it's a matter of the next contract he's offered.