New Blood

In the exploding world of MMA, it’s sometimes hard for fans to notice some of the amazing fighters on the verge of making it to the next level. We’ve enlisted the experts at MMAWeekly.com to take you deep inside the sport, and present you with some of the newest names to watch.

 

Name: Kevin Swanson

Nickname: “Cub”

Professional Record: 11-1

Height: 5’7”

Weight: 145lbs

Discipline: Shoot Fighting, Muay Thai

Notable Wins: Micah Miller, Tommy Lee, Charlie Valencia

 

Fighters say that you learn more from a loss than you do from a victory. Well, if that is true, Cub Swanson is one quick study. The World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight contender lost his first professional bout, but has been on an 11-fight winning streak ever since.

Swanson fought his way up through the Total Combat promotion in Tijuana, Mexico and then the venerable King of the Cage organization before he was offered a shot in the WEC.

Like most light weight fighters, Swanson often had to compete in the 155 pound division before the WEC came along. With the promotion’s emphasis on lighter fighters, Swanson jumped at the chance to fight consistently in his true weight class at 145 pounds. He also benefits from the exposure that comes along with the WEC and their national television deal with the Versus network.

Not wasting any time, Swanson, a California native, quickly submitted one of the Midwest’s best fighters in his WEC debut. In little more than three minutes, Tommy Lee (not the drummer from Mötley Crüe) tapped out to Swanson’s guillotine choke.

Returning to the WEC cage on the night of the promotion’s live debut on Versus, Swanson was largely considered an underdog to an undefeated Micah Miller. Swanson and Miller put forth one of the night’s most exciting battles as they exchanged punch combinations and knees to the body while standing, and displayed an array of submission attempts on the ground. Swanson seemed to always be a half step ahead of Miller, and landed the cleaner shots en route to a unanimous decision victory.

Swanson is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and has been training under legendary martial artist Erik Paulson, as well as at OC Muay Thai. Naturally athletic, he also has a background in soccer.

Under the guidance of Paulson, his professional mixed martial arts record now stands at 11-1. Having shown the management at the WEC that he is a true contender, winning both of his WEC fights decisively, Swanson is now in line for one of the biggest and most exciting challenges of his career.

Famed fighter Jens Pulver is making the move from the UFC to the WEC so that he can fight at his natural weight of 145 pounds, much like Swanson. Pulver’s first opponent in the WEC? You guessed it, none other than Cub Swanson.

In fact, it was Swanson that chose Pulver as an opponent. He was given the choice between Pulver and Canadian Mark Hominick for his next bout. In choosing Pulver, Swanson stated matter-of-factly, “Jens is a little bit of a bigger name. They’re both real tough, but I felt this was the better matchup for me.”

Despite Pulver’s pedigree as the first ever UFC Lightweight Champion, and being a veteran of several top promotions including PRIDE FC, Swanson knows that the challenge Pulver presents comes with a payoff. “A win over Jens is definitely going to help build my career.”

Although it’s a big fight for his career, Swanson still seems to keep things in perspective, not letting the aura of Jens Pulver take over his psyche. “The whole [featherweight] division is exciting. It’s nothing but tough guys, bring ’em on one by one.”

 

Name: Leonard Garcia

Nickname: “Bad Boy”

Professional Record: 10-2

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 155lbs

Discipline: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing

Notable Wins: Alan Berube, Justin James, Jake Hattan

 

Debuting in 1999, it wouldn’t seem that Leonard Garcia is “new blood” material. But considering that he has been on a three-year hiatus and has only fought three times in the past year and a half, Leonard is still pretty new to most fight fans.

 

Nathan Marquardt. Duane Ludwig. Pete Spratt. Thomas Schulte. Justin James. These are just some of the fighters that Garcia cut his teeth with when he started out with manager Sven Bean’s Ring of Fire promotion.

Now, with a 10-2 professional record in mixed martial arts, Garcia is on the cusp of becoming a widely known fighter. He made a name for himself at the grass roots level on shows like Ring of Fire and in the United Shoot Wrestling Federation.

His return to fighting in April of 2006 was once again under the Ring of Fire umbrella. True to his Jiu-Jitsu roots – Garcia started training in the discipline when he was 16 years old in an attempt to stay out of trouble – he submitted an overmatched but tough Rocky Johnson in his old stomping grounds in Denver.

Following the win over Johnson, it took a twist of fate for Garcia to take the step up into the Octagon.

Fellow Ring of Fire veteran Alvin Robinson was on tap to face Roger Huerta as the UFC made its Texas debut in Houston. As luck would have it, Robinson injured his knee in his last fight prior to UFC 69 and had to withdraw from the fight.

With only three weeks to go until the Houston date, in stepped Leonard Garcia, long anticipating this day.

He had a tough task in front of him in Huerta. Although he ended up losing a unanimous decision, he and Huerta earned “Fight of the Night” honors and a healthy bonus check when all was said and done. The two threw blows and searched for submissions for the entire three rounds of their bout, but Huerta was a little more effective with his hands and maintained top position throughout most of their time on the ground to get the win.

Garcia’s thoughts on his first time in the Octagon? “The first round, I was extremely nervous. It was the big stage, [but] I was having the time of my life in there. I can’t explain how it felt. It’s been my dream since the UFC started to fight there.”

Not only did Garcia get his shot in the UFC, but in the process, he found a new home. “For [the fight with Huerta] I came up to Greg Jackson’s camp to train and get ready and actually got signed to the team,” explained Garcia. “So now I’m an official part of Jackson’s team.”

It was a great new experience for the Texan. “I’ve trained Jiu-Jitsu for a lot of years, and fought MMA, but I’d never been to a camp where I trained with a lot of MMA fighters.

“I live there at the gym. It’s like being around family all day long,” says Garcia.

It is definitely an empowering experience for Garcia to finally find a place where he has the support of other professional fighters. “When you come out and you’re ready to go and you see all your guys, they’re not telling you anything, but with the way they look at you…it’s all coming down to this one moment…and I think it makes us fight harder.”

Again on short notice, Garcia followed up his battle against Huerta by accepting a fight with The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 participant Allen Berube, on the show’s season finale. This time, Garcia wouldn’t be satisfied with an exciting loss. This time he wanted to walk away with the win.

And he did.

At the 4:22 mark of the first round, Garcia called upon all those years of Jiu-Jitsu training and locked a rear naked choke that left Berube gasping for air and tapping out of the fight.

It was a nice bit of retribution for Garcia. He was among the 19 finalists for Season 5, but was left out of the final 16 due to a hairline fracture in his wrist.

Adding a win to his UFC dream, Garcia could hardly find words to explain his first victory in the Octagon, “It’s an unexplainable feeling. It’s an overwhelming feeling.”

He is on tap to face Cole Miller, another UFC reality show veteran, in late September. But Leonard Garcia hasn’t forgotten his first time under the bright lights of the UFC, and isn’t shy when asked who he really wants to fight.

“I’m going to definitely be looking for Roger [Huerta] again. I want to see what we both do against each other when we both have a solid training camp. Who knows? I might just throw the game plan out the window again and try to go to war. I’m not a guy that likes to work position. I’d much rather try for a submission. If I miss it, get myself in a better position and go again.”

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