When Efrain Escudero was helping his friend and teammate Ben Henderson prepare for the biggest fight of his life earlier this year, he was the sparring partner chosen to emulate then-champion Frankie Edgar.
The former winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season eight studied Edgar's tapes religiously, his angles, his combinations and his little nuances so he could best mimic "The Answer's" fighting style and best help his training partner.
Whatever he did seemed to work as Henderson would go on to defeat Edgar and win the UFC lightweight championship in Japan this past February, bringing the belt back to the MMA LAB in Glendale, Arizona.
Throughout this process, Escudero started having fun again.
Despite having his first child on the way, "Hencho en Mexico" has put very little pressure on himself for his upcoming fight with Mac Danzig, who he'll be battling tonight (April 21, 2012) on the UFC 145 preliminary card.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've talked about how you're having fun again in your training and preparation, channeling your "old style." I was wondering, how did that happen? Were you just watching old videos and you saw something different?
Efrain Escudero: Being outside of the UFC made me realize that I'm not the fancy boy, the guy that goes out there and gets the perfect 1-2. I'm a scrapper. I'm a gamer and you never know what I'm gonna bring to the table so it's exciting. It's exciting to go out there and prove myself again, to go out and have fun and do my thing. It's exciting again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like you were trying a little too hard before? Perhaps you had to relax a bit?
Efrain Escudero: No, I wasn't trying to hard, but it was just kind of like, you just keep going and you put a lot of unnecessary pressure on your body and your mind and you stress your mind out. Sometimes you go out there and you're like, "Oh, I've got to impress my next fight. I've got to do 'this' in the next fight," and in all actuality, I've skill got to be the same fighter with the same mentality where, "You know what? We're gonna execute this gameplan accordingly but we're gonna do it in a manner where you can just go out there and have fun."
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That makes sense. How much does it help your confidence now having a UFC champion in your training camp in your weight class even?
Efrain Escudero: It's good. I train with ex-WEC champ Jamie Varner and I train with current UFC champ Benson Henderson so for me, training with these guys who have held a title belt, I train with these guys every day so for me to go out there and fight other opponents, it's a booster, a confidence booster just because they alternate rounds on me with each guy being fresh and I'm getting my butt kicked and stuff like that. Once I go out there and fight guys in my weight class, it's almost not fair. I'm ready to go, ready to scrap.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were in charge of emulating Frankie Edgar before Henderson's title fight against him. Were you able to take anything away from that, just because Edgar's got that style that helped him become champion? Was there anything specific that you learned from emulating him that you were able to add to your own game?
Efrain Escudero: Moving angles, I've probably seen more videos of Frankie Edgar than I have of anybody else (laughs) with the exception of some of my opponents. Just the whole moving, the aspect of the angles, the way he comes forward and throws his kicks, the way he throws his combinations, the way he takes shots and throws that straight right. For me, I was able to pick a lot of those things up especially one of the things that you always see, Frankie Edgar cuts angles in and out and he's never in one spot. He's always moving side to side, in and out and he's hitting you from different angles.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've also got a baby on the way for the first time. Does that affect your motivation to succeed?
Efrain Escudero: That just fuels me more, gives me more motivation. I'm so excited, ready to do my job and have fun. It's all about letting it all out there. I'm gonna go out there and leave everything in Atlanta for Mac Danzig and then train for my next opponent.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In preparing for Mac Danzig, he's so well rounded. Is it more difficult to train for a guy that's pretty good at everything than it is for a guy like your last opponent, Volkmann, who you know is going to just try to take it to take it to the ground the whole time?
Efrain Escudero: Well no. I'm a mixed martial artist so we train every single aspect of the game, boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, everything. We have evolved the sport and added the variables. It makes me more aware of where I have to go with him. I've taken into account my strengths and weaknesses and how to impose his weaknesses. What can I do to make him react? We're playing a game of chess, no longer checkers.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there any one thing in watching footage of him that you have to especially keep an eye on?
Efrain Escudero: No, not really. I've just gotta go out there and let my hands do the talking, let my feet, my wrestling and my jiu-jitsu get going and everything's gonna work out at the end of the day.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been watching the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. It's live now, it's 13 weeks instead of six like it used to be. You were part of a pretty crazy season. Do you think you could have handled 13 weeks in the TUF house instead of six when you were on the show?
Efrain Escudero: I don't know man. I would have been going crazy, that's for sure.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to know a little bit about #EffyGameTime. Is that something that you just do to relax and get to know your fans a little bit? Is that therapeutic for you?
Efrain Escudero: That's actually pretty funny. It's fun, #EffyGameTime is where I go and I play different video games and I have an opportunity to play with fans, talk with them, chat with them and play video games. It's a really good atmosphere. I'm talking smack, telling them to bring it on. It's really fun and it gives fans an opportunity to interact with me and even beat me up because sometimes I'm on the receiving end and sometimes they can laugh at me a bit, I can laugh at them. We go back and forth and have fun. I usually play UFC Undisputed with them.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you're visualizing success against Mac Danzig, you close your eyes and think about that fight, what do you see?
Efrain Escudero: I see my hands being raised. I've had a lot of mental visualization and I'm really excited. I'm just expecting the fight to be close and the things I do, I'll do right and then I see me coming out on top. It's gonna be an exciting one.
Efrain would like to thank his training partners, hoping they get an opportunity to get in the UFC soon. He'd like to thank his coaches and Ben Henderson. You can follow Efrain on Twitter @EffyEscudero.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Escudero be able to channel his old self and find success? Which former winner of The Ultimate Fighter will be victorious tonight?