A career in mixed martial arts, like any other profession, is all about progression. As a fighter progresses through his or her career, there are both high points and low ones. That goes for any fighter. One of the biggest misnomers to the layperson is that the best in the world cannot be beat. In reality, there is not a champion in the UFC that has never suffered defeat, with the exception of Jon Jones, whose only loss was by disqualification.

The character of a fighter does not come from an undefeated record. The bulk of any fighter’s character is exposed when that person suffers a loss, and fans really get to witness the ensuing reaction.

When Efrain Escudero joined the cast of the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter, he was undefeated. He was confident, performed well and rolled through most of his opponents in the first or second round. Upon winning that season, the Mexican-born fighter went on to win a second fight in the UFC, before suffering his first loss to Evan Dunham by way of submission, his own finish of choice.

In the next three and a half years, the former TUF champ suffered some great victories and some setbacks, including a four-fight losing streak that began with his return to and second release from the UFC. Granted, all four fights went to decision and were hard-fought battles, but it was time for Escudero to get back in the win column.

That win finally came in June. Even better, it was a championship victory.

Escudero (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

At Sparta Combat League’s inaugural lightweight championship in Greeley, Colo., on June 29, Escudero faced Colorado-based Marcus Edwards. At 24 years old, Edwards is a young up-and-comer with nothing to lose, and Escudero was set to have his hands full. After three rounds of back-and-forth action, Escudero had easily picked up two, if not three, rounds. The judges, however, were varied in their opinion and Escudero narrowly escaped with the split decision.

Not one to puff out his chest and act like the greatest ever, even with his first belt around his waist since winning TUF, Escudero went right back to the drawing board to figure out what he could have done differently to finish the fight.

“Coming out to Denver on a month’s notice, I kind of held back a little bit because I didn’t have total confidence in my strength and conditioning,” said Escudero in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I didn’t want to get tired and gassed. Now, I’m a firm believer that I’m in shape, and I have faith in all that I do, so I don’t need to hold back.”

Although he may have finished Edwards if he hadn’t held back, the elevation change in Colorado is no joke. The effect of thinner air on most athletes can make or break a performance, but, for a fighter, it can be detrimental. Fortunately for Escudero, he won’t have to worry about that in his next match-up.

Tomorrow night, in his home region of Phoenix, Escudero will step into the cage for the second time under the Bellator banner. At Bellator 100, live from his alma mater, Grand Canyon University, Escudero will square off with a familiar face as he looks to keep on the winning track. His opponent is Zack Surdyka, an Arizona Combat Sports fighter who trains a half hour across town from The MMA Lab, where Escudero’s camp resides. Surdyka not only trains with some standout fighters like Jamie Varner, but also with some of the same men that have trained with Escudero, which makes this a very interesting match-up.

The similarity between Escudero and Surdyka is frightening. Both guys are in their late 20s, were collegiate wrestlers in Arizona, train in the Phoenix area with some of the same people, and are proficient in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The biggest difference is in their respective levels of experience.

Escudero is a seasoned vet, entering the ring 26 times over the last seven years with appearances in the UFC and Bellator. Surdyka has only entered the ring seven times in the last five years. That’s a big disparity in cage time. Some people will say that it’s the fighter, not the record, that is the real opponent, but if this was a battle of experience, it would be no-contest.

Escudero (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

“Stylistically, I don’t think he is better than me anywhere,” explained Escudero. “I don’t think he’s better than me at jiu-jitsu. I have better stand-up. I’m excited for this fight.”

An exciting fight it should be. Both guys are hungry and each one feels that he is representing the best gym in Arizona. Escudero is expecting a war, and he’s coming ready to finish Surdyka early.

After Bellator 100, Escudero is not really sure what the future holds for him, but he plans to keep fighting and building that winning streak back up.

“Right now, it’s just the one fight with Bellator, but we’re keeping our options open,” said Escudero. “I just want to fight.”

Going from undefeated to his first loss to winning streaks to losing streaks and back to winning again, Escudero has the amazing character of a true warrior. He has proven time and time again that no matter how far or hard he falls, he will always pick himself up and come back a better fighter.

On Friday night, fans are going to get one serious throwdown when two Arizona guys face off in the cage at Bellator 100, and Surdyka better watch out, because the ghost of the undefeated Escudero is about to make a big comeback appearance.

“I‘m going back to the old Efrain Escudero. The one who is always looking for the finish and who isn’t scared of anything.”

Escudero would like to thank all of his coaches and training partners at The MMA Lab, his family and especially his wife and daughter. He would also like to thank the fans who have been behind him, supporting him all the way. Follow Efrain on Twitter: @EffyEscudero

Top Photo: Efrain Escudero (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)