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Cole Escovedo was ready to hang it up.

A severe staph infection had partially paralyzed him and led to an exploratory surgery around his spine. He got through that. But if he couldn’t get through his first opponent after climbing back in the cage, then he was going to call it quits.

The foe was Michael McDonald, who has since gone on to the UFC.

“It was either do it or retire at that point,” Escovedo (Pictured) said recently during a “Savage Dog Show” interview on the Sherdog Radio Network. “I was either going to go in there and win that fight or I was going to decide that there was no more room left for me in the sport. If I couldn’t come back from that surgery and win that fight, then I probably would have just given up MMA there because it would have burst a huge mental bubble. I would have that huge wall of, ‘OK, I did everything I could and sacrificed everything I could to get here, and it wasn’t enough, so I need to move on.’”

It was enough, though. Escovedo stopped McDonald in the second round of their May 2009 encounter.

“There wasn’t a single time during that fight that I ever thought I didn’t belong here,” Escovedo said. “If anything, after the first round I felt that it was more than the right decision, that I was good to be there.”

Escovedo reeled off four more wins before getting knocked out by McDonald in a rematch. He also lost his next fight against Michihiro Omigawa, but by then Escovedo was already certain that he had a future in MMA. After getting back on track with a win over Steven Siler, he got a call from the UFC’s Sean Shelby asking if he wanted a shot in the Octagon.

“Kind of a no-brainer,” Escovedo said. “It’s one of those opportunities that you don’t ever really pass up when they come. It’s not like the UFC calls you every day. It was kind of either take it or don’t. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.’ It was, ‘Yeah. What’s the purse?’”

Shelby also told him his opponent: touted prospect Renan “Barao.” Escovedo didn’t have time to look up info on the Brazilian; he just took the fight.

“I’ll be honest. Up until the time Sean Shelby asked me if I wanted to fight, I’d never heard of the guy,” Escovedo said of Barao. “As far as who he is and what he’s done and stuff, [I’m going off] what I found on the Internet. I know he’s got a good record, solid jiu-jitsu, a solid striker, but I’d never heard of him up until this fight. I don’t really know what to think. I’m not saying it’s going to be an easy fight. I’m not underestimating him at all. You don’t get a 25-1 record by being a nobody, but it doesn’t really matter to me because at the end of the day, numbers don’t really matter. He’s got to step into the cage and fight me just like I have to get in there with him.”

The fight is big for Barao -- it’s his UFC debut too -- but Escovedo considers it the “biggest opportunity” of his life.

“It’s going to be a milestone in my career,” Escovedo said. “It’s going to mark a new chapter and it’s going to mark a new section in my life. It’s going to be a new opportunity to better myself and better my life for my family.”

Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:08:10).

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