Efrain Escudero hopes the third time’s the charm in the UFC

Efrain Escudero: "We're going to make this one count" 

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Efrain Escudero returns to the UFC this weekend to face Leonardo Santos while trying to outlive a rather dubious honor he currently holds on his record.

Escudero was the winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 8.  He was also the first competitor home grown from the series to win the reality show and then be released from his contract.*  He’s also the only winner in history to get cut and brought back again for a second time.

It’s not a note he enjoys having on his resume because he then lost two more fights and was promptly dropped from the promotion again.  They say there are no second chances in life, but Escudero is now approaching his third trip to the UFC and he’s not oblivious to the fact that this is probably his last shot as well.

Still, Escudero refuses to look at this opportunity as if he’s standing on the end of a plank with a pool of sharks beneath him with no room for error.  He’d rather think of this third shot in the UFC as the first time the real Efrain Escudero has shown up.

"It does build a lot of pressure, but then off my second time I got cut again. Then the third time came around and this time I have nothing to lose and everything to gain," Escudero told FOX Sports.  "Why am I in this? I had a lot of time to think about it and now I have a family. I have a wonderful daughter.  The reason why I fight is because I love it. I love the sport.  At the end of the day, what’s the pressure? 

If you go back to the time when I refused to tap and let my arm get broken against Evan Dunham — I want to go back to that person that doesn’t care. He just wants to go out there and put on a show

— Efrain Escudero 

"It’s not fighting.  There’s no more added pressure going in there.  I’ve lost fights, I’ve been cut, I’ve cried, I’ve been down, there’s been bloodshed and everything.  If you look back at my fights I’ve let them go to the judges or I’ve held back or it seemed like something wasn’t going my way.  If you go back to the time when I refused to tap and let my arm get broken against Evan Dunham — I want to go back to that person that doesn’t care. He just wants to go out there and put on a show. Not scared that he’s going to lose.  Fighting because I love it."

Looking back on his multiple stints with the UFC, Escudero can pinpoint where he went wrong each time.  Coming off The Ultimate Fighter, he was 22-years old and thought he was ready to conquer the world.  The second time he was offered a contract in the UFC, Escudero was going through some personal struggles and the birth of his daughter, which left him in no mental state to be in the Octagon at that time.

No matter what he says going into this latest rebirth with the promotion, Escudero knows he’s probably on a short leash with UFC management and fans.  Luckily, he believes this is the best he’s ever been and now at 28 he’s ready to be a man.

"Right off the Ultimate Fighter, I was very excited and very motivated. I was trying to make an impact. I was trying to make waves.  Second time around, I just had a newborn and I only had two fights and I was cut.  The third time around — this time — my mentality is right," Escudero said.  "Everything is up to par.  I’ve trained with the best.

"I’ve had the camp of a lifetime. Now that my mind is right with everything else, nobody can hold me back."

The biggest difference for Escudero was letting go of all the baggage he was carrying from previous fights, and just go out and enjoy himself again.  Long before he was pulling in paychecks as a fighter, Escudero was a wrestler and a college student who just did it because he loved to compete.

If he can get back to that person again, Escudero is confident he’ll finally prove he belonged in the UFC all along.

"I know if I can put it all out there and hang with some of the best and do my best out there some of these people will break.  And I will break them," Escudero said.  "This goes back to my days in wrestling in college.  I was the kind of guy that would go down seven points going into the third round and I would break people. I would go in there and find a way to break them.  I’m going to try to break people. 

"I’m going to go into deep waters and forget how to swim and just let it go."

As the old saying goes, the third time’s the charm and Escudero is well aware of the task he has in front of him this weekend in Brazil.  There’s no turning back and there’s no tomorrow.

*Travis Lutter won The Ultimate Fighter season 4 and was released prior to Escudero, but he had three UFC fights prior to being on the show