Third Time's the Charm: Efrain Escudero and the Precedent for UFC Comebacks

Fightland Blog

By Tom Taylor

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Efrain Escudero is only 28 years old, but his career has already seen its share of ups and downs. While he appeared to have a great deal of promise after winning the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter, it wasn’t long before a loss to Charles Oliveira resulted in his release from the UFC. It was the first time a TUF winner had been cut from the organization. 

After his release, Escudero was able to achieve enough success in smaller organizations to justify a UFC return. Unfortunately, a pair of losses to Jacob Volkmann and Mac Danzig earned him his walking papers for a second time. It appeared as though, despite winning The Ultimate Fighter, Escudero was not cut out for the UFC. 

However, this Saturday, at UFC Fight Night 51, Escudero will have a rare, third shot in the organization in spite of his two previous releases. After going 4-3 since his last foray into the Octagon, he has been matched up with fellow TUF winner Leandro Santos, and granted a final chance to prove that he is in fact UFC quality. 

As rare as second and third chances are in the UFC, Escudero is not the first fighter to receive one. The precedent for returns to the UFC has been set and set again, by fighters across all weight classes. And while no fighter has ever intentionally let such a chance go to waste, not all have been able to seize the opportunity. Ours is a difficult sport, and as a result, sometimes all the chances in the world still aren’t enough. 

One example of a UFC return gone awry can be found on the record of light heavyweight slugger, Joey Beltran. Beltran, who began his UFC career as a heavyweight, started his employ with the company with a bang, scoring back-to-back wins over Rolles Gracie and Tim Hague. However, things took a turn for the worse when he encountered Matt Mitrione and Pat Barry, and two years later, after two more losses, Beltran found himself in the unemployment line. But “The Mexicutioner” did not give up, and after a win on the local circuit, he was called back to the UFC to replace his injured teammate Brandon Vera against the ever-dangerous James Te Huna. 

The result was an entertaining scrap, but Beltran came up short on the scorecards. Thankfully, however, his willingness to step up on short notice earned him some brownie points, and he was given another fight in the UFC. He was matched up with Igor Pokrajac, and while he was able to secure a victory over the Croatian, the result was eventually overturned when Beltran tested positive for banned substances. From there, Beltran’s comeback only soured. After a split decision loss to fellow striker Fabio Maldonado, Beltran was asked to hit the road once more. And while he has worked his way into a Bellator title fight, it appears that The Mexicutioner’s time in the bright lights of the UFC is over for good. 

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Beltran marks just one example of many curdled comebacks to the UFC. Comparable outcomes can be seen on the records of fighters like Tim Hague, Jorge Santiago, and of course, Escudero himself. But Escudero is now faced with the opportunity to rectify his first, failed attempt at a UFC comeback. And while many fighters, like Beltran, have not been successful in UFC returns, many others have achieved tremendous success the second time around. These are the competitors whose careers Escudero should look to for inspiration. 

Perhaps the first and most obvious example of a comeback-gone-right is the recent resurgence of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Rumble not only managed to earn himself a ticket back to the UFC, but has also brutalized his way into the top-five of the UFC light heavyweight division. Things couldn’t have looked bleaker for the former welterweight when he was shown the door. Now, he’s closing in on a title shot. And the success stories don’t end there. 

Remember when Junior Dos Santos punched Fabricio Werdum’s head into orbit at UFC 90? Well, that loss resulted in Werdum’s release from the UFC. Yet after a thrilling chapter in Strikeforce, Werdum has worked his way back into the UFC’s heavyweight roster, and will soon face reigning champ Cain Velasquez for the title. 

On the same night that Werdum lost to Dos Santos, Patrick Cote lost to Anderson Silva in the main event. From there, the French Canadian went on to lose two more back-to-back fights in the UFC, and he, like Escudero, was sent packing. But actions speak loudly in MMA, and after four impressive wins outside the promotion, Cote was granted his return. And while he lost his first fight back—after dropping to welterweight—Cote has re-established himself as an important part of the UFC roster. A plethora of fighters, from welterweights like John Howard, to heavyweights like Gabriel Gonzaga, have been able to do the same. 

In his first attempt, Escudero was not able to replicate the success of these fighters. And while fighters like Beltran, Hague and Santiago were never lucky enough to earn third chances with MMA’s top organization, Escudero now has that chance. Of course, it’s unlikely he’ll find himself knocking on the door of a UFC title like Rumble or Werdum, but if The Ultimate Fighter winner can score enough wins to outweigh any losses he incurs, he might just be able to call the UFC home until he decides to hang ‘em up. He will undoubtedly have his hands full against a hungry up-and-comer like Santos, but in a rare twist, at UFC Fight Night 51 Efrain Escudero will have a chance to prove that the third time really is the charm. 



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