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Efrain Escudero: I Have to Prove to Everybody I Belong in UFC

The Ultimate Fighter 8 winner Efrain Escudero is all healed up and ready for his first stab at making a mark in the UFC lightweight division since securing a six-figure UFC contract last December.

Escudero is a superb submission wrestler who tapped out all three of his opponents on the show until decisioning Phillipe Nover in the finals. At UFC 103 on Sept. 19, he takes American Top Team's Cole Miller, who, like himself is a master of choke holds.

In this exclusive interview with FanHouse, Escudero talks about returning from injury for the Miller fight, Drew Fickett's recent slump and why it's important for him to finish college even with all the dedication required as a professional fighter.

Ray Hui: How are your ribs?

Efrain Escudero: My rib is pretty cool. I've been healing up. I had [an extended rest period] from my last scheduled fight to now, so it's healed correctly and I'm ready to be back into the Octagon.

How do you feel you about being matched up with Cole Miller?

I respect the decision from the UFC to throw me in there with a big name, because Cole has proven himself that he belongs in the Octagon and now it's my turn coming off The Ultimate Fighter season 8. I have to prove myself to everybody that I do belong in there and that I am hungry and I expect a war from Cole.

Both of you are finishing off opponents lately with a variety of choke holds. Are you expecting this fight to take place mostly on the ground?

I feel comfortable wherever the fight goes. I know he's probably aware that I have really good wrestling so he's probably aware the takedown at anytime, if he decides to strike with me, is at my disposal. And I know as soon as I try to take him down, he's going to go for submissions. He's really good on the ground but I feel myself well-rounded right now and this fight can go anywhere. Both of us are hungry, both of us want to keep moving up the ladder and we're not going to stop.

With wrestling, do you think Miller's reach can present problems for you?

When it comes to takedowns, a shot is always going to be there. If I can grab a hold of a leg that's enough for me to take you down. That's the mentality I was brought up as a wrestler: If you can touch them, you can take them down. I just gotta keep driving, driving, driving and as soon as he makes a mistake the takedown goes with it.

Cole being very long and very lanky, I don't see it being much different compared to somebody smaller. Smaller guys are harder to takedown because they're always very low. Taller guys are kind of easier to take down because it's hard for them to get under you. I don't expect Cole Miller to be able to frustrate me a lot on the takedowns.

You went from being scheduled as headliner on a UFC Fight Night card to being placed in an undercard bout of a pay-per-view. Does placement matter to you?

It don't really matter to me. I'm still a huge fan of the sport and I respect whoever is on the main event or undercard. I don't let it frustrate me because if I was fighting on a main event card I would be training the same way and if I was undercard or first fight of the night, I would still be preparing the same way because it really doesn't matter to me.

You're still in college and fighters I talk to tend to tell me they need to fight while they are still young and college is always something they can finish later. What led you to the decision to study and fight at the same time?

College has always been the biggest factor of my life. I always told myself I was going to graduate no matter what. I come from a family of five and all of my family being a bunch of dropouts there has to be that one guy that gives that satisfaction to my mom. And [me] being the last one, I'm shooting for that college education and dedicating it to her because she's put us through a lot. And we can't fight forever so my biggest emphasis is getting my education. You can always get your education while you are young because once you're 30, 35, 40 it's harder to get into a classroom and sit there and listen. Also we're young and we have our minds strong.

On TUF 8, there was a feud going on with you and Junie Browning, who has expressed interest in a rematch with you. Is that something you would want?

I don't really want a rematch with him, just for the sole reason that I want to fight tougher and better people. Junie hasn't proven himself right off the bat, he hasn't done anything off the show, I'm facing the guy who beat him... And I'm just going to go in there and show what I gotta show and later in life if me and Junie are going for the no. 1 spot or the title, yeah go for it. But I don't want to fight anybody, not even just Junie, I don't want to fight anyone in my career unless I really have to, because I want to keep moving up. If I was fighting somebody just to fight somebody then I have nothing to gain and all to lose.

Have you kept up with your coach Nogueira after the show?

Yeah, I actually have. Nogueira is a very good friend of mine. Danny Valverde and all those guys I respect them. I see them like family. I really like them and I hope after my fight I can move down to Miami and be part of their team or something like that.

Do you still train under Drew Fickett?

No. Drew opened his own school in Tucson. I couldn't leave with him to Tucson because of my education but I'm still training with Santino Defranco and all those guys.

As someone close to Fickett, what are your thoughts on his recent issues and do you think he can eventually works his way back to the top?

That's the million dollar question. Drew has an attitude of a champion. He has the materials to be a champion, a world class athlete, but I think he has a big problem and one of his biggest issues is alcohol. But I respect him, I love him and I'll always be there for him. He got me to where I'm at right now and if he can get past those issues, I'm pretty sure he can be back on top. But right now he should sit back and take a year off, take whatever time he needs to take off and get your life together and then come back, I think he can come back stronger. But right now. Hard. Hard question to answer.

You're very proud of your Mexican heritage. What does it mean for you to be fighting in Dallas where there's a huge Hispanic population?

I was born in Mexico. I have a very, very hard Mexican heritage. I respect everybody. Everybody especially in Dallas. It's an honor to fight in front of so many Mexicans. Not only so much Mexicans, but Americans too. I love the sport. I don't want to lean towards one side but I am proud of where I came from and just like everybody else, you got to be part of where you came from and you can never forget where you came from.

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