Efrain Escudero is on a mission.
The winner of season eight of The Ultimate Fighter is out to silence the critics who say the show is more about marketability and drama than producing championship-calibre competitors.
He’s out to establish himself as the next in a long line of great Mexican fighters.
And he’s out to solidify his standing in the ever-deepening UFC Lightweight division.
The mission continues Monday night at The Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia, as Escudero takes on Evan Dunham at Fight Night 20.
We sat down earlier this week to discuss the fight, the future and much, much more.
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ESK: Thanks so much for doing this, and for rescheduling.
Escudero: No problem. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to be a part of this interview.
ESK: We’re five days away from our fight with Evan Dunham at Fight Night 19 in Virginia. How has training camp gone and how are you feeling heading into this fight?
Escudero: You know, my training camp was phenomenal. I actually had a lot of fun. The Cole Miller training camp was really horrible, but this time I had fun with it and really enjoyed it. I had a lot of great training partners, and I’m feeling good going into this fight.
ESK: What was so horrible about the Cole Miller camp?
Escudero: Everybody was trying to beat me up before that fight. This fight, I had Ben Henderson who was getting ready for his fight too, so I saw him suffering, not just me.
ESK: You’re a pretty big guy for 155. Do you cut a bunch of weight heading into a fight and do you see yourself moving up at any point during your career?
Escudero: I usually get up to about 185. I woke up this morning at 169. I did it smart this time, a lot of dieting a lot of cutting weight, and I’m never going to suffer again like I did for the Cole Miller fight. I was really dehydrated, I was really messed up, and this time I’m feeling good and ready to go.
ESK: Do you see welterweight in your future or is 155 where you plan to make your permanent home?
Escudero: ’55 is my home. I have a welterweight who trains with me every day, Edgar Garcia, and he’s huge, and there is no way that I would want to step into the Octagon with him.
ESK: Both yourself and Dunham come in undefeated, meaning someone is leaving with the first loss of their career. How do you ensure that isn’t you?
Escudero: What do I do? I stick to my game plan. I do what I do best – fight – and I let the fight take care of itself.
ESK: What have you seen of Evan Dunham and where do you see this fight going to earn another tick in the win column Monday night?
Escudero: He has extremely good power. He strikes a little awkward. We’re wrestling, and I can take people down or he over-commits on his punches and I can take him down. We haven’t really seen much of his ground game, because against Marcus Aurelio, he was keeping it standing, and then at UFC 95, he was just staying a little more relax for his debut.
ESK: It seems like the UFC Lightweight division keeps getting deeper and deeper, with new guys asserting themselves and jockeying for position. Where do you think a win Monday puts you and who do you look at as a possible next opponent?
Escudero: You know, I really don’t like to go around - I wouldn’t want (UFC Matchmaker) Joe Silva to tell me how to fight, so I won’t go up there and tell Joe Silva how to do his job. We’ll take it a fight at a time. I’m just going to think about Evan Dunham now, and whatever is next is whatever is next. I’ll make a full training camp again and then go out there and do my job.
ESK: Before getting around to some more insightful and investigative journalism-type questions, are you up for some fun, quick-hitter questions?
Escudero: Probably Georges St-Pierre.
ESK: Best fight you’ve ever seen – live or otherwise?
Escudero: WEC or UFC?
ESK: Doesn’t matter.
Escudero: Probably Forrest Griffin–Stephan Bonnar (TUF 1 Finale), but if you were to say WEC, tied up to that one would have to be Donald Cerrone and Ben Henderson. That was just one hell of a fight.
ESK: Most Underrated Fighter?
Escudero: Let me see? I don’t know. In the UFC?
ESK: Anywhere. Who is one guy that [the media] just doesn’t give the respect he deserves?
Escudero: Chael Sonnen.
ESK: That’s a pretty solid answer. That might be the best answer I’ve heard to that question.
Escudero: If you would have asked me this question a year ago, I would have said Philippe Nover, but now... probably... let me think about this... Paul Daley. He’s good, he has extremely good power, but before his last fight, [the media] was already matching him up with Koscheck and those people.
ESK: Fair enough. We still haven’t seen his ground game either in the UFC, and that has always been the weakness or the sticking point. We thought we’d see it in the Dustin Hazelett fight, but that certainly didn’t happen.
Who is the Best Pound-for-Pound?
Escudero: I would have to say Anderson Silva.
ESK: Best Prospect?
Escudero: Jon Jones. After the demolition of Matt Hamill, even though it was a disqualification.
ESK: What’s the origin behind your nickname, “Hecho en Mexico?” For those that don’t know, explain the meaning and when you began using it.
Escudero: “Hecho en Mexico?” It means “Made in Mexico.” I have it tattooed on my back. On every Mexican product, like if you look on the Coca-Cola bottle, if it was made in Mexico, you can see the little eagle. For me, my first one was “El Matador,” but Roger (Huerta) already had it. All of a sudden, we switched to “Hecho en Mexico” and I already had it tattooed and I liked it and it stayed.
ESK: The UFC is expanding into new territories this year with UFC 110 in Australia and a possible show in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mexico has always been talked about as a possible destination as well.
How big is the sport and the UFC itself in Mexico?
Escudero: The UFC is slowly getting introduced to Mexico, and I believe it can get bigger and bigger, but you can only more one state at a time. I truly believe that if they can convert all those boxing fans from Mexico to UFC fans, it’s going to bring in millions of people. You know, there are a lot of Brazilians in the UFC now, in about five years, if they do it correctly, the introduction into Mexico, they might have that.
ESK: You and Cain Velasquez are viewed as two young stars the UFC can build around for a push into that market. How does it feel being viewed as one of the stars of the future for a country with as rich a fighting heritage as Mexico?
Escudero: Me and Cain both being representatives for Mexico, it’s a great feeling and I love it. When we both step into the Octagon, we have one thing in mind. We’re not fighting alone; we have thousands and thousands of people becoming fans and new fans supporting us, so we have to win in a dramatic way. We have to leave a statement out there and show our fans in Mexico that, “If they can do it, we can do it too.”
ESK: Who were some of the fighters you looked up to growing up, when you began wrestling and as you transitioned into MMA?
Escudero: Wrestling was my focus all through school, and I always looked to a guy name Cale Sanderson on a wrestling perspective. My dad used to be a pro boxer, so when I started watching boxing and stuff when I was a little kid, I used to always go for, probably Julio Cesar Chavez, he was my main idol. Everything I did, I wanted to be like him.
ESK: That’s a pretty solid guy to idolize. For those who don’t know, the career record stands at 107-6-2.
Escudero: And he went a long time being undefeated.
ESK: What was the TUF experience like for you? We’ve heard countless recollections over the years -some good, some bad. Your team looked to be pretty tight, but you also had some tensions with a certain Junie Browning?
Escudero: The show was fun. It made it seem a lot like home because we’re adults and we treated each other like adults, and we talked to each other as adults. We were able to keep a good relationship team-wise, but you know, Junie Browning tried to mess up that friendship that we all had. We had that unity on Team Nogueira, and Team Nogueira cared about us as fighters, and not as winning like Frank Mir did. But bottom line, I had fun. Even though those antics of Junie Browning, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
ESK: How much of Junie is an act, and how much of it is just a kid who doesn’t know how to handle himself, both personally and professionally?
Escudero: I think that a lot of it is acting, and a lot of everything he did was just to get on camera. But I have to say, if he was out on the street or out at the club, he wouldn’t be doing most of the stuff like that. I do believe that it was mostly antics and stuff to get on TV because he knew we couldn’t hit him. You know, I would never in a million years try to call out Ryan Bader at a bar because he’s huge, so if Bader was going to hit him back, I’m pretty sure he’d have not done it.
ESK: Do you think we’ll ever see him back in the UFC?
Escudero: I doubt we’ll see him back, definitely not any time soon. Junie Browning can have a great career, probably go somewhere else like Strikeforce or somewhere, but I don’t believe that Dana White would tolerate his antics too much.
ESK: He’s finally run out of chances?
Escudero: (Laughs) Yeah.
ESK: Will you ever get tired of being introduced as “The Winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 8” or however Bruce Buffer rattles it out?
Escudero: Not really. As the seasons progress, maybe; we’ll be in Season 50 and I’ll be “The Winner of Season 8,” that would probably be “Aw, Bruce, c’mon...” but as of right now, we’re all good.
ESK: And I’m sure you’re looking to replace it with “UFC Lightweight Champion” Efrain Escudero anyway?
Escudero: Oh, I’m not stopping until I get it.
ESK: Some in the media have criticized the show for becoming stale, focusing more on the drama and marketability of participants, and not producing the same calibre of fighters we saw early on.
As a former participant and winner, what do you say to that? Is the show still focused on finding the best fighters available? Is it time for a break? Do you take it personal when people criticize later seasons of the show?
Escudero: Yeah, you know. There are those guys who will make the show and want to make – the fans out there want to know what the average fighter does during the day, but there are always going to be those guys who want to stand out in front of the camera. But if you have a fighter, like our team, we were very respectful and had great fighters like Philippe Nover, Tom Lawlor , Kryzsztof Soszynski, Ryan Bader, people who have come out and are still standing in the UFC, just remember that those are the fighters.
The people that went out there and tried to make a show out of themselves and steal the spotlight, where are they now? Where is Kaplan, Dave Kaplan? Where are those guys who were in there trying to make a fool out of themselves? The show does create drama, but you just have to put that aside and focus on the actual fighters who are there to fight.
ESK: Alright, last two and they’re the same two I end with for every interview.
If you could fight anyone - past or present, dead or alive, fighter or non-fighter - who would it be and why?
ESK: Yeah, anybody. If there is a historical figure you’d like to get in the cage with, if you’d like to get in the ring with Julio Cesar Chavez at one point...
ESK: Yeah, anybody.
Escudero: I would probably want to fight Ghandi.
ESK: And the reasoning…
Escudero: 'Cus that guy never quit and I'm pretty sure he's the only person out there who would take a beating and never quit, and that would break me mentally. He's probably the only guy out there who could break me mentally, other than myself.
ESK: That is without a doubt the most unique and original answer I've ever gotten to that question. People usually chose a mythical warrior or a figure they dislike, and you're picking a guy who based his life on non-violence, and admitting that he'd probably break you.
Escudero: He probably would. That guy took a beating, and for me, that would be pretty bad and I think that's the only guy who could break me.
ESK: If you could play matchmaker for one day, regardless of organizational ties or anything like that, what three fights would you make and why?
ESK: That brings us to the customary “Plug the Sponsors” portion of the interview.
Escudero: First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time and doing this interview. I want to thank my manager Jason Jennea, my training partners for this phenomenal camp. My teammates: Danny Martinez, Ryan Kelly, Edgar Garcia, Alex Garcia, BJ Penn who helped me out a lot, Ben Henderson.
I also want to thank all my sponsors Bud Light, MTX Audio, Dethrone Royalty, TapouT, everybody that is out there that wants to sponsor me, visit my website , get a hold of my manager and if anyone wants to get a hold of me, find me on Facebook , on Twitter , on my website EfrainEscudero.com and I’ll keep a friendly conversation with you on there.
ESK: Thanks for doing this.
Escudero: No problem, man. Thank you.