Just before he began the official start of his camp for a UFC 114 fight with Dan Lauzon, Escudero finished something of extreme importance to him: his college degree. The 24-year-old earned his bachelors degree in criminal justice from Grand Canyon University. Later this summer, he'll begin work towards a masters degree in sociology. And in the meantime, he'll look to advance his MMA career forward while rebounding from his first pro loss.
"School's actually helped me with my fighting career," he told MMA Fighting. "Overall, it kept me focused and out of trouble. I always knew what I had to do, and thanks to it, I've been able to have structure. I wasn't always thinking about fighting, I was also thinking about reading books, studying and things that students have to worry about."
Escudero has of course, done some of his best homework while preparing for his time in the MMA world. Fighting professionally since the age of 20, he's compiled a 13-1 record while winning season eight of The Ultimate Fighter.
After winning his first two official fights in the octagon (beating Phillipe Nover and Cole Miller), he finally learned a lesson he would rather have avoided: losing. In a tense, three-round battle with fellow unbeaten prospect Evan Dunham, Escudero found himself trapped in an armbar. Escudero tried valiantly to fight his way free, but after a few excruciating seconds of struggle, he was forced to tap out before risking major damage to his arm.
As it was, he suffered a sprained elbow and swelling.
In typical Escudero fashion, he took the loss as a teachable moment. Within a week, he was back in the gym and working towards redeeming himself for the mistake that cost him the bout.
"I learned a lot in the fight and I thank Evan for that," he said. "I came in and dropped him in the first, and after that, all I wanted to do was drop him again. I forgot my game plan. He brought it. He was ready to fight. He was in condition, he was in shape and he took advantage of my mistakes."
Escudero also examined his methods of learning. In the run-up to the Dunham fight, he says there were "altercations" and "miscommunications" with his fight team at Southwest MMA, and he made the difficult decision to move to another local gym, The Lab.
The latter gym was already the home of several fighters who had left the former gym. Also among its denizens is Escudero's friend, WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson.
"Ben's a great training partner, but so is everyone there," he said. "We don't have a lot of big name guys, but we have up-and-comers, guys that are going to push you. They're not going to give me respect just because I fight in the UFC. These guys are hungry and ready to put on a show and knock our heads off."
At his new home, Escudero has put extra emphasis on his strength and conditioning program, and is excited about the prospect of fighting on a full camp for the first time without the interruption of school.
What he's not excited about is the possibility that he may be fighting an opponent who is not as committed to being his best on May 29 as he is. In recent weeks, there have been confirmed reports of chaos in Lauzon's ranks. His brother, UFC fighter Joe Lauzon, recently left the camp, refusing to corner his brother because of what he saw as a substandard work ethic.
Escudero, who counts Dan Lauzon as a friend, hopes that it's not completely true and that Dan is able to bring himself to the cage in strong fighting shape.
The two met about four years ago when Lauzon moved to Escudero's home state of Arizona for a while. They trained together for a time, and Escudero remembers him having a strong work ethic.
"He was tough and he'd push himself to the limit trying to get better," Escudero said.
"I'm expecting the best Danny," he continued. "I've got to expect that he's at his best striking, in his jiu-jitsu, cardio and wrestling. If he didn't train as he should have, he'll suffer and know it."
Escudero goes on to say that he hopes that Lauzon has worked as hard as he has, and that he hopes the fight is simply a test of who has come better prepared, knowing full well that when it comes to hitting the books or hitting the pads, he's already graduated to a new level.
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