by Brian Lopez-Benchimol – MMAWeekly.com
After creating a buzz on the West Coast mixed martial arts scene, Efrain Escudero graduated to the UFC, securing a spot on the eighth season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” After having laid claim as the season’s lightweight champion in December of 2008, “Hecho en Mexico” hasn’t looked back since.

Following debilitating injuries that kept him out of action for the better part of 2009, Escudero returned in September at UFC 103 in Dallas, where he showed a new facet of his game. Labeled a “wrestler” due to his collegiate accolades, Escudero showed a much improved stand-up game. He defeated Cole Miller by technical knockout inside the first round.

Hoping to keep the momentum going, the 23-year-old returns just a few months later for co-headlining duties at UFC Fight Night 20 in Fairfax, Va., on Monday night.

“I was pretty excited to get this fight,” he said in regards to the quick turnaround. “I didn’t have enough time to sit back and get fat again, so I like that a lot. I was able to stay in shape and I was able to put a good camp together and now I’m ready to scrap.”

If scrapping is what Escudero intends on doing, then whom better to train with than the scrap-meister himself, B.J. Penn.

A star-studded lineup, Escudero had the pleasure to train not only with the aforementioned UFC lightweight champion, but also with one the WEC’s hottest commodities in Interim champ Ben Henderson – all of whom had fights in close proximity to one another.

“I started my camp with B.J. Penn, helping him train for the Diego Sanchez (fight) and you know, that was actually a great experience,” Escudero relayed on MMAWeekly Radio recently.

“My whole camp, I brought in guys like Alex Garcia, Joachim Mesa (and) Ben Henderson (for) this whole entire camp. (Ben and I) cross-trained together. We’re teammates and partners and we helped each other. He’s fighting Jamie Varner the day before I am, so we were able to work together a lot and push each other.”

With the hard work behind him and the fruits of his labor within grasp, Escudero (12-0) is now paired against another undefeated lightweight stud in Evan Dunham (9-0), who is fresh off a win at UFC 103 as well, against veteran Marcus Aurelio.

Though Dunham lacks any real name recognition, Escudero will not make the mistake of overlooking him. He can sympathize with Dunham’s situation. It was just a little over two years ago when Escudero went from fighting in small-town casinos housing 400 in capacity to 16,000-seat arenas and televised on Spike TV in front of millions.

“The guy is undefeated, he just beat Marcus Aurelio, and I have to think of (this) as a normal fight,” said the proud native of Mexico.

“It’s my job. All I have to do is go in there and do my job. I’m not going to give him an easy win if he happens to beat me, which I doubt because (I put in) one hell of a camp. I trained and put my body through hell and I doubt that anyone can put me through worse than what my camp put me through.”