When we look up at the night sky and wish upon a star, it’s quite possible that we’re actually looking at something that faded away a long time ago. That stellar body that we think we’re seeing isn’t actually there, it burned out, but its light is still traveling to us from millions of light-years away.

That can be a good reminder that sometimes we’re probably better off keeping our hopes and ambitions invested in what’s right in front of us, not placing them in some far off dream that’s really just an illusion of time and distance.

Efrain Escudero, who is fighting in the co-main event of this Saturday’s Championship Fighting Alliance 12, is someone who, based on his journey, could provide some good advice on that topic. His career is likely well known to us by now: he’s a winner of season eight of The Ultimate Fighter who was surprisingly cut from the UFC, went on to have success in the regional circuits, returned and washed out of the UFC with two straight losses, and now is back to building wins in smaller shows in hopes of finding residence within a big promotion once more.

Yet, big promotion or small, it doesn’t matter to Escudero as much as you’d think. As long as he can keep himself busy and pay the bills with fighting, as he is doing with his now fourth upcoming fight of the year, he’s still doing what he loves.

“I just want to stay busy, man. My career has been up and down, and I’m ready to rejuvenate my career and get back on track,” Escudero, in a coarse morning voice, explained to The MMA Corner. “We’re fighters, that’s how we make our money, you know? So, yeah, I like to keep it busy. Our window of fighting is so small for us fighters that we can’t sit there and have one fight a year. We have to go out there and fight.

Escudero (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“This is our job. It’s an everyday thing. That’s why we do it. We love it. We go out there, we enjoy the moment. I don’t do this because I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I need to do this or need to do that.’ It’s my job. This is what I love to do. I go out there and do it.”

The whole process leading up to a fight is seemingly handled like a simple task by a veteran like Escudero. Once a fresh-faced newcomer to the big show who was touted by his coach, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, on TUF 8, Escudero now, just three years later, has been through the grind of the MMA business a few times over and has come out of it as a stout veteran at just 27 years of age. Presently, he’s days out from his 27th professional fight. It’s just another day at the office, yet that doesn’t make the morning weight cut any more pleasant, something that could be heard in his harshly dry voice and occasional yawn.

Any person navigating any sort of career can relate to going through the highs and lows that such an endeavor entails. Escudero professed that success can be “a roller coaster for a lot of people.” A glance at his resume makes it obvious that he’d be one to know. It’d make sense that he’s also one to listen to when it comes to piloting through the lows while maintaining your course.

“You just gotta put everything aside. Whatever you have going on, you have to fight through it,” Escudero explained of making it through difficult periods. “One of the things we always tell ourselves when we’re at the gym and we have those bad days where you just get beat up and get pounded—and even the 125-pounders and guys that shouldn’t be beating you are beating you—you can’t let those things get to you. You have to put those things aside and be like, ‘Alright, what are we doing wrong?’ Look past it and learn from it. And that’s kind of what you have to do. You have to look at what’s going on, sit down and relax, take a chill pill and go in the next day and try to compete better.”

That’s something that is relatable to us all. We all have days when we’re off our game and get figuratively pounded by office politics, an under-performance or even something as mundane as a sly comment. But we put up with it for good reason, right? At the end of the day, there has to be a reward for our sacrifices. And that’s something that only we can own and define for ourselves.

“The reward is kind of like a self-confidence, the whole competitive aspect of it,” Escudero elaborated. “Yeah, you make money. You do that, you enjoy it, you go out, but at the end of the day, it’s exciting. You want to go out there and win. You don’t want to go out there and lose and feel good about yourself. At the end of the day, you go out there to compete. To do everything you’ve trained for.

Escudero (R) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“Me and my opponent, we don’t hate each other. It’s just a game of chess. Who trained better, who did what they’re supposed to do and that’s the way to do it.”

The excitement in Escudero’s voice when he talked about the act of fighting makes it clear that he really does feed off of the aspect of competition. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t like losing at anything, even joking that he hates losing thumb wars with his kid. So, understanding his drive to continue competing in MMA as just a simple love of competition is adequate enough. Fans may think that Escudero can really only truly be satisfied or successful if he’s back to winning in the UFC or holding a belt or achieving some kind of accolade. But they’d be making the mistake of looking for something too far off in the distance, instead of what’s available right now.

Success can’t always be defined by the stamp of a brand or the gold at the end of the figurative rainbow. It can be created by the work that’s right in front of you. It’s more about looking at your present challenges as a way to evaluate yourself to better move forward.

“Chael Sonnen on The Ultimate Fighter, [he said] every fighter tries to find the right emotion,” Escudero said. “And back then I used to find emotion to go in there to fight somebody. I used to do that, ‘Okay, let me get mad.’ But, at the end of the day, that’s not going to win me fights. Me being emotional is not going to win me fights. What’s going to win me fights is moving my feet, getting off the bottom, wrestling, staying moving.

“For example, this weekend, I’m fighting Luis Palomino. He’s a friend of mine [and] he’s had a hard time finding fights. You know, he needs to fight. He needs to make money. So I took the fight. But I’m not fighting Luis Palomino, I’m fighting his strengths and weaknesses. I’m going in there and I’m seeing him as a fighter, like, okay, let me see how good his boxing is. Okay, let me try to be faster. Let me try to let my wrestling be faster than his. We can hang out and have fun and enjoy ourselves after—and during—the fight, but at the time of the fight, you just have to put everything aside and decide, ‘I have to fight a different way.’”

Escudero is a main training partner of two fighters that more than represent varying levels of success at different points in their career. They are a former reigning UFC champion and a veteran on the tail end of his career that’s enjoying recent success. With his team’s wealth of experience coupled with his own, there’s not much other than his own game plan that Escudero is worried about with his fight against Palomino this weekend.

“We’re prepared for everything in my camp, you know,” Escudero said of his team at MMA Lab. “I train with Benson Henderson. I train with Joe ‘Diesel’ Riggs. So, I’ve pretty much seen it all. So, I’m not really afraid of what he’s going to bring to the table. I expect to go out there and stick to my game plan.”

Even with the insight shared by Escudero, it’s tempting to look past this fight and wonder where the respected competitor would end up if he took a win home on Saturday. Could he be competing in a Bellator tournament in the near future? He does own two wins within the promotion. Could he be another logical addition to World Series of Fighting’s ranks? It’s difficult to say, and Escudero wasn’t much help in revealing the answers to these questions either.

But one thing is for certain. Escudero won’t be sitting around twiddling his thumbs and gazing at the stars. It’s more likely that he’ll keep hurdling forward at the speed of light, doing what he loves before that window of opportunity shuts closed and the light ceases to shine on his career. Through the good days and the bad.

“Everybody should tune in to watch. It’s going to be a great fight for fireworks,” he concluded, urging fans to tune in to AXS TV on Saturday. “I have a 20-7 record, he has a 20-8. We’re trying to make it back. We’re trying to make something happen with our careers. It’s going to be an exciting fight. And like I said, I’m not fighting Luis Palomino. I’m fighting his skills, and that’s how I have to look at every fight.”

Efrain would like to thank Global Pharmedica and his coaches and training partners at The MMA Lab. Follow Escudero on Twitter: @effyescudero

Top Photo: Efrain Escudero (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.