As he was preparing for his fight at Tachi Palace Fights 9, Cole Escovedo got a call he'd been waiting on for a long time. On the other end was Sean Shelby, the UFC's matchmaker for the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. He was calling to offer Escovedo the opportunity to fight Renan Barao at UFC 130.
"It only took 10 years," Escovedo said, laughing.
"I think it'll be a lot different after I've had that first fight and can go around and tell people I'm a UFC fighter now. Right now, I'm just another guy that Zuffa picked up to give an opportunity to go in and test my mettle and show everybody what I'm worth. It feels good. It feels like a sigh of a relief, but I think it'll feel better once I actually walk out that walkway."
For Escovedo, finally getting the call to fight in the big show is the culmination of years of hard work, not to mention how he had to battle back from a serious staph infection that nearly cost him his career. Making it to the UFC has also proven to be a big thing for his mother, who's been by his side for the entire journey.
"She's excited because it's been a long road for both of us getting here," Escovedo said last week on Bloody Elbow Radio. "She's real supportive of everything and even though she doesn't like me fighting, she's supportive. It's kind of been a goal for her, too, and we've finally reached it. Her answer was, 'Once you have one fight, you're going to retire, right?' And I'm like, 'No, I'm not going to retire after one fight.' That's kind of how she wants it to go because she doesn't really like me fighting, but I have to go in and do the best I can with it and run with it as long as I can."
Escovedo leaves for Las Vegas today. He says he doesn't expect everything to set in until he's given the go for his walkout for Saturday's opening bout.
His opponent, Barao, comes into this fight with a 25-1 (1 NC) record and also will be making his UFC debut after going 2-0 in the WEC last year, winning both fights by submission. Escovedo is hoping to use his reach advantage and thinks his speed will counter Barao's power.
"I'll take whatever he gives me," Escovedo said. "He'll dictate how he wants to lose. I'm not overconfident in my grappling abilities against him, but I'm not worried about his, either. I know he's got good ground, but I think a lot of people are underestimating my ability. They're forgetting that time and time again, I've had high-level jiu-jitsu guys tell me they won't be submitted and next thing you know they're looking up after they got choked unconscious. I'm definitely taking his ground game into account as a serious threat, but I don't think it's going to be the end-all, be-all. He's going to have to deal with a lot of tools I'm bringing that a lot of people are underestimating."
You can hear the entire interview with Escovedo by listening to last Tuesday's edition of Bloody Elbow Radio.