Photo via Fighters.com
A lot can happen in 365-days.
Just one year ago, Efrain Escudero was 3-1 in the UFC, still hot off winning season eight of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). That all changed after a poor performance at UFC Fight Night 22 against hotshot lightweight prospect Charles Oliveira in which he not only was finished in the third round but also failed to make weight.
Escudero was handed a pink slip after his loss and was sent off to reevaluate himself in smaller promotions. He's fought five times already in the past year, going 4-1 with his sole loss being to fellow UFC veteran Fabricio Camoes at Tachi Palace Fights 9 in May.
Getting back on track won't be easy, but at least the former TUF champion has a good role model, training alongside top UFC lightweight contender and former WEC champion Ben Henderson at the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona.
Escudero has a big fight coming up this Saturday night (September 10, 2011) at BAMMA 7 against Tim Radcliffe in Birmingham, England and he spoke with MMAmania.com about his expectations, his regrets and his goals for the future.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This weekend you'll be heading to England to fight outside of North America for the first time in your career. Can you talk about what you're expecting?
Efrain Escudero: I'm expecting to get a whole new level of exposure. I'm expecting there to be a ton of crazy fans out there. It's the first time I'm not fighting on my home continent so I'm expecting to be the bad guy going in, fighting one of their favorites. I want to go in there, give them a show and win the crowd over. The responsibility is on me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, this will be the first time you've really went into hostile territory where you're not gonna be the fan favorite.
Efrain Escudero: Yeah, that's what it is. Sometimes that's what you have to go through, though. The thing is, I'm not fighting the crowd. I'm fighting Tim Radcliffe. I've done my studies and I've trained really hard for him. When I step into the cage, the fans and everybody there won't matter. They'll just be enjoying the fights and I'm going to provide some entertainment.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your opponent, Tim Radcliffe, he's a strong UK fighter. He's got solid Muay Thai striking and he's finished a lot of fights via submission. What are you expecting with him?
Efrain Escudero: I'm not really too focused on him, I'm more training everything. I'm training for a war to be a complete fighter, a mixed martial artist. I feel comfortable with my hands, I feel comfortable on the ground. I'm comfortable with my jiu-jitsu, my wrestling, everything. I feel comfortable.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned how in the past, you used to prepare for fighters specifically back when you were splitting time fighting and going to college. Now that you're a full-time fighter and no longer wrestling, you're more training everything regardless of opponent. Can you talk about that change in mind-set going into fights now and your preparation?
Efrain Escudero: The difference now, back in the day wrestling was really strong. I started to do the same thing, wrestling is still a very solid part of my arsenal and I train with college wrestlers still. Now that I'm training MMA full time, I can focus on my weak parts, I can focus on my boxing, my jiu-jitsu and stuff like that. Now when I go into fights, I focus more on my own strengths and weaknesses and I try to pick my opponents apart. It's like a chess game. I've got to see a move before he even makes it and then counter. That's the kind of studying I'm doing now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm very interested in the mental aspect, confidence. When you won The Ultimate Fighter you were on a terrific undefeated streak before coming up short. Since your release, you've gone 4-1. Can you talk about building that confidence back?
Efrain Escudero: The confidence is always there especially now. I go in there now because I love to fight. I go in there every day and I put in the hours and the time and I'm having fun again. No longer do I consider this a job where it's not fun. Once you start thinking about this becoming a job again, it becomes boring. It becomes a habit, forcing yourself to go to practice every day and dragging, thinking, "Oh boy, I've got to train again today." Now it's back to being more fun again. That's where all my friends are at and it keeps me motivated.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk a little more about when it wasn't fun? When it was more like a job? Was it the time when you had the Bud Light sponsors, you had the big tour of Mexico and the southern United States? You had all that extra work and pressure on you.
Efrain Escudero: It's always been fun, I've always had a blast but there's times where I wasn't having fun. I was doing it because, "Oh, I'm a fighter so I have to train." It was like a firefighter having to put out fires. We are supposed to do it because we love it. We love the competition, we're pushing ourselves, we're competing against each other trying to get better. That's the goal of the sport.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had a rough fight at Tachi Palace Fights 9 against Fabricio Camoes, a tough Brazilian fighter who was also a UFC veteran and you came up short. It looked like you were trying to use your wrestling and he was just really strong and he got stronger in the later rounds. Can you talk about what happened that fight and what you're working on now to overcome it?
Efrain Escudero: Fabricio Camoes was a great opponent and he kinda changed my mentality. He's a great fighter, he beat me fair and square. When I do look at that fight over and over again, it came down to the first round. I didn't really let go with my hands and it was me holding back. I had no reason to hold back. I have no idea why I did hold back so now when I work in training, I don't hold back. I go out there to press the pace and that's what I was lacking against Fabricio. I was lacking the hunger in the first round. I was playing it safe and it cost me. I'm focusing now on me first, it's a fight and we're gonna be in there for 15 minutes. It's all about utilizing what you've worked on in training and bringing it with you into the cage. You've got to bring it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there ever a time where you see yourself think too much in a fight and not just letting the fight happen?
Efrain Escudero: Not exactly. I've always been a reactive fighter but there are definitely times where I find myself hesitant, thinking, "What is this guy bringing? What is this guy doing?" instead of just fighting.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I wanted to talk about your training over at MMA Lab a bit. You've been working with John Crouch for a very long time and you've also got Ben Henderson over there. With his win over Jim Miller, he just vaulted near the top of the UFC lightweight division. Can you talk about training alongside Ben and whether or not his intensity is infectious with the rest of you guys?
Efrain Escudero: He's working really good. Me and him train right alongside each other. He was doing his training camp for Miller and I was doing my training camp. We were doing the same conditioning. I just fought a month ago in Miami, Florida against Mike Rios and me and him shared the same camp. Now I've got my fight coming up and he's been in there helping me. The mentality of our team is we're not selfish, we don't just think, "Me, me, me," we try to help each other out and push each other. When we feed off each other and each other's momentum, that's really good. Also, when I roll around in grappling, tapping Ben Henderson is really good, him tapping me. We go in there and give everything we have.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's gotta be a good feather in your cap, tapping Ben Henderson in training because he's got that reputation now of being unsubmittable.
Efrain Escudero: It's funny, you know? I'd rather get tapped 1000 times in practice than get tapped once in the Octagon, though.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about your contract with BAMMA? How long do you expect to be fighting over there?
Efrain Escudero: We signed for a year. It's a three fight contract. Hopefully we'll make the most out of it and I'm hoping the UFC calls. I think I'm ready and I'm ready to be back and start moving up that divisional ladder again. That's my future goal.
One of the guys that I want to fight really bad is Charles Oliveira. I like him as a person, he's a really cool guy, but as a fighter, I really dislike him. It felt really good seeing him get jacked by Cerrone. When I fought him the last time, my mentality was nowhere near what it was supposed to be. Me not making weight was weighing on my mind. That's not an excuse but that was my mistake. I had a lot of family problems and issues in my head. He beat me and the way he acted, there will be a rematch someday.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Final question, how do you expect the fight to play out against Radcliffe on Saturday night on September 10th?
Efrain Escudero: I expect a good fight. I expect this guy to come in there and bring it. Radcliffe isn't exactly known in a lot of places, he's not known in the US but he's got a good fanbase in England. I think it's gonna be an exciting fight both ways. He'd better bring it because I'm going to take everything he gives me. If he wants to stand and trade, we'll stand and trade. If he wants to wrestle and use jiu-jitsu, whatever he's got in his arsenal, I'm ready.
Efrain would like to thank all his training partners at The MMA Lab, Kelly Oso, Ben Henderson, John Crouch, all his fans and his sponsor Tilted Kilt.
So, Maniacs, will Escudero realize his goal of getting that call back to the UFC? Or does he still have a long way to go?