A former highly regarded prospect. Let go by the UFC after a disappointing run. Didn't really find great success in other promotions.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of Robbie Lawler, the current UFC welterweight champion. He was given a second chance by the UFC and made the most of it. Just three years ago, the thought of Lawler holding UFC gold seemed ridiculous.
"It's a pretty good story," Efrain Escudero told MMAFighting.com.
Indeed. And Escudero has been watching it closely.
Like Lawler, Escudero came onto the UFC scene with some hype. He won The Ultimate Fighter 8 in 2008 by knocking off top prospect Phillipe Nover, who UFC president Dana White famously called the next Anderson Silva. After that, he knocked out veteran lightweight Cole Miller in the first round to move to 12-0.
Escudero went 1-2 in his next three fights, missing weight before a loss to Charles Oliveira in 2010. The UFC released him and The MMA Lab product bounced around for the next year-plus before getting a second opportunity after beating Cesar Avila in Bellator. In his second run with the UFC, Escudero lost two in a row and was cut once again.
The Mexico native then lost two straight before rebounding to win four of his next five, including another victory in Bellator. In September, Escudero got another UFC shot and fell to Leonardo Santos by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night: Bigfoot vs. Arlovski in Brazil.
It has been quite the wild ride. Escudero could be fighting for his job again versus Rodrigo de Lima at UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Thatch on Saturday night in Broomfield, Colo. But the former TUF winner doesn't see it that way.
"I've been in the game, in the sport for a while now," Escudero said. "I've been in the UFC off and on for about seven years. I see myself restarting. You always have to see yourself in a new beginning. This is where it starts. This is where I start my winning streak."
Could Escudero (22-9) be the next Lawler? Written off on multiple occasions only to rise again? Escudero has paid close attention to the career paths of guys like Lawler and his MMA Lab teammate Joe Riggs, who has also recently gotten another chance in the UFC.
"They just had a dream," Escudero said. "They have a dream and they never gave up on it no matter what anybody said. That's exactly how I feel. Look at Robbie, he's the UFC champ. He had a dream. He got cut from the UFC before. He fought in Strikeforce and such and then he made his comeback."
Escudero, 29, doesn't want to make excuses. But maybe he wasn't ready at age 22 when he won the Ultimate Fighter. And his second stint in the UFC was when his first child was born.
"I feel that being a new dad took my mind off it, not being able to sleep at night," Escudero said. "But I had to stick with it. I had the chance to be in the UFC. For whatever reason, I got cut after my second fight. That's the game. It happens."
He's not bitter. Far from it. Escudero doesn't agree with being cut twice, but admits that he was not at his best then.
"I've had my ups, I've had my downs," he said. "I've had my doubts. I had to overcome some things. I think my mindset probably would have been different, my perception about fighting."
Now? Escudero said he's in "a way better place." The loss to Santos was close. De Lima is someone he knows he can exploit in the cardio department. And then he can go on from there. Because if there's one thing Escudero has learned is that he really can only take it one bout at a time.
"So do I see myself with a bright future?" Escudero said. "Yeah, I see myself being successful. All I have to do is win my next fight. That's all that matters."