Risk vs. Reward: Cub Swanson knows the game better than most, and he’s confident in the payoff.

Photo by Landry Major

The last time Cub Swanson stepped into the Octagon was July 6, 2013. MMA fans may remember that as the night Anderson Silva’s long reign as UFC middleweight champion came to an end at the hands of Chris Weidman. They may also remember that Swanson earned an extra $50,000 for his Fight of the Night performance against Dennis Siver that evening.

On June 28 Swanson will face Jeremy Stephens in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card in San Antonio, TX, and as Swanson sees it, a win inside the AT&T Center should be enough to earn him a shot at UFC gold in the 145 pound weight division.


How is your golf game going?
I’ve only been playing about seven months now on and off, but Powerbilt Golf given me my own coach and clubs so I don’t have any excuse, so I’m feeling pretty good.

Do you get frustrated easily on the course?
I did at first, but now that I can come back from it, I don’t as much. From all the training in fighting, I’ve got enough self-control that I can bring my self back, but it definitely can be frustrating.

I saw on Instagram that you have a new dog. How old is Danger?
He’s about six months old right now, and he’s a half Maltese half Silky Terrier.

Have you always had dogs?
I did growing up, and then my brother and me had a really cool pit bull. About ten years ago he passed away, and I didn’t want another dog – I couldn’t get close to another animal for a long time. With being in the fight game, and not really making money and living in apartments, I really didn’t feel like I should have a dog, but I finally bought a house after the (Dennis) Siver fight and my brother said “get a dog, get a dog”. I couldn’t do a big dog any more. When I get home from training I don’t want a big dog jumping on me. A little dog is cool.

How thankful are you to Ramon Diaz and Joe Stevenson for working with you early on?
Very thankful. Ramon Diaz is the one that gave me my start. He was just such a cool guy – an awesome person. He showed me what a real martial artist is, and he said “Just learn as much as you can from me, and when you have to move on, you move on,” and I did.

Joe Stevenson was the first fighter to reach out to me that I looked up to and I drove out to meet him and he just trained me and as it went on he started using me for training camps and we became really good friends.

Do you think without Joe you would have not gotten into MMA?
My whole goal was to get into MMA, but he definitely started introducing me to people, and showing me how easy it is when you know the right people. I think when people chase their dreams they don’t have any direction or watch anybody do it before them that they kind of don’t have an understanding of how to make it there. So, meeting people that want to help you out and guide you – you learn how to make the right moves, and that’s pretty huge.

What’s your relationship with former WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley?
We went to high school together. We weren’t really good friends then, we were in different crowds, but everyone knew who he was. He was the guy that was going to school and running the track an hour before school started. I couldn’t even fathom that because I had a hard time making it to first period. He was trying to make the Olympic team and doing big things back then, and I didn’t start MMA until I was 19.

When I moved back to Palm Springs I made it into the same boxing gym, and they all respect what I was trying to do and we just became close because we’re two guys doing good things from a place where not a lot of people come from.

Do you agree with his assessment that you deserve a title shot?
I really do feel like I deserve another shot. I’m in the zone for what I have ahead of me. I believe that me getting the shot is inevitable. I feel like the way my career has gone, it’s destiny.

What do you think about UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo saying he wanted a rematch with Chad Mendes and not you?
I think he said that because he knew. I had already been told that he (Mendes) was going to get the shot and they were looking for an opponent for me. So, I think he said that because he already knew that that was the fight they were going to give him.

Is it about getting another shot at Jose Aldo or about getting a shot at the title?
It’s to be number one overall, but I couldn’t imagine a sweeter way to get it than to avenge that loss. He’s the reigning champ. I feel like if he moved up to 155 and I became the champ it would always kind of be like, “Oh, you couldn’t beat Aldo.” I think that would be the best-case scenario.

Would it have been a little bittersweet if Aldo had moved up and you and Mendes would have fought for the vacant title?
Mendes and me have unfinished business too. So, that would have been fine because the way I saw it, was I’ll fight Mendes and I’ll win that fight, and Aldo could be coming right back down. How crazy would that be and I had the belt and he was fighting me for my belt. All that intrigued me, but the thing I was getting kind of frustrated with was that there were no answers. I wanted to get the ball rolling,

What did you learn from the Aldo loss?
I learned to just be myself. I felt that in order to win that fight I needed to be something that I wasn’t, and I felt I went into it with the wrong mentality. I learned a lot, and that’s one of the fights that really changed me as a fighter. I know I can beat him. I know that at this point in my career – my weapons have grown. I still think he’s an amazing fighter, but I think that I’ll win the rematch.

Do you go back and review your fights with your camp?
I watch them by myself mostly, and with people close to me and then I’ll have my coaches watch film then I’ll tell them what I think, and I’ll ask for their opinions on top of it. I’ve learned that that works out better.

You said your injury layoff between 2010 and 2011 allowed you to refocus, what changes did you make during that time, and what changes have you continued to make?
It was a pretty serious injury, and I kind of took it as just another injury, but my mom and stepmom were both there and really drove home that I was crazy and that I needed to take a good look at what I was doing in life and really assess if I could live with the consequences of the job. They really didn’t want to see my fight anymore.

I really dug deep and thought if I wanted to continue. I thought, “What’s my legacy if I retire right now?” And I said, “It’ll be the kid who had tons of potential that didn’t live up to it.” That really burned me and I just felt that I could do better and that just kept going through my mind. So, I reevaluated the way I thought about fighting, the way I prepared for my fights.

I started talking to my coaches and coming up ways to improve, and it’s been working.

Have your mom and stepmom come to terms with your job?
They are a lot better than they were at that moment, because I have been able to come back and shine and do really well, and I think that helps. They’ve always wanted me to do something else, but they know how stubborn I am, and they know they can’t tell me anything because I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and they support me as much as they can, but they are very proud of me.

What have you been up to this layoff, which began, with your win over Dennis Siver in July 2013?
I’ve been training the entire time. I think I may have taken off two weeks here and there. I was bugging (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby, and me and Sean went down the list many times, and he explained to me why I couldn’t fight this person. I just had to play the waiting game, but I’ve been training the entire time.

Has that been frustrating?
It was always frustrating, but I do understand their side of it. As a fighter when people are calling me out and thinking I’m scared, it really pisses me off, but everybody who called me out I asked for and they (UFC) said “No.”

I got asked eight times a day, “When are you fighting again?” I would explain that they are waiting for the right people, but it’s a good problem to have.

Dustin Poirier called you out on Wednesday night after he defeated Akira Corassani, which made it two fights in a row he’s called you out. Why do you think he is so focused on getting that rematch with you?
Because he thinks he can win, that’s the only reason. I think that’s the only reason people are calling me out, they think they can beat me. I think it’s funny. I asked for the Poirier rematch, but they said they don’t like having rematches unless it’s for the title, and I get what they are saying.

Me and him are going to be around for a while, and we will fight again at some point, it just doesn’t make sense now. I know I will beat him again.

I’m a fan of his – if I beat him again where does that put his career? He’s still a big up and coming star, so it puts a big damper in his career.

Does the talk from Conor McGregor bother you at all or do you see it as part of the game?
It’s just funny to me. He’s not top 15. He could not beat a single person in the top 15. I asked for that fight – I begged for that fight just because it was easy money. I’d fight that dude with one hand, no problem, but they just wouldn’t do it.

Do you agree with your ranking as the No. 4 featherweight?
I don’t think Frankie Edgar (No. 2) or Ricardo Lamas (No. 3) should be ahead of me.

Why do you feel that way about those two?
Well, Frankie Edgar is 1-1 in our division and he barely beat a guy that I beat in the first round (Charles Oliveira) and I think Lamas beat some tough guys, but his best fight was against me. I was winning that fight the whole time and I got caught.

I asked to fight him again, and he refused to fight me. He held out for the title fight (against Aldo) for over a year, and I think he’s a top ten guy, I just don’t think he’s that high.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from working with Greg Jackson?
Probably to believe in myself, and to be creative and be my own fighter and don’t worry about anybody else.

Speaking of being your own fighter, you’ve said you get bored in the Octagon and like to have fun. What was the most fun you’ve had in a fight and what was the riskiest move you’ve ever done during a fight?
I remember having a lot of fun in the Mackens Semerzier fight just because we were just going at it the whole time. I had a lot of fun in the Poirier fight too, and that was the reason I was open to fight him again. I knew that when I looked him in the eye that we were going to fight the next day, and that made me happy.

The riskiest move was the first time I did the handstand kick in the WEC against John Franchi because I really hadn’t done anything that crazy before, but I had both my hands broken so I just figured I might as well start throwing everything I can.

Does your riskiness bother Jackson?
No, he’s got a couple rules for me, and basically he’s saying, don’t be boring, bit don’t be too crazy – be creative and crazy, but he wants there to be some sense behind it.

Does he ever have to rein you in?
Yeah, he’ll tell me – he’ll let me know.

Four of your last five fights have ended by knockout or TKO, where has this power come from?
When I had my jaw wired, I thought about cutting to 135, and I just started to get really weak and everyone was telling me I couldn’t do it, and that made me want to do it even more, but after feeling like crap I decided that I just needed to bulk up.

I got with a strength and conditioning coach and started lifting, but I didn’t like the way I felt. After talking to him I figured out a way to lift and not lose speed, and that’s been part of it – putting on some size. I used to walk around at 160, and now I walk around at 175.

The other part of is that I have confidence and I throw hard. Before I just tried to be accurate and punch the other guy in the face all the time, but never tried to throw as hard as I could because I didn’t want to gas out. Now I just throw like I want to break the guys face.

Is there anything you’ve been working on heading into the Jeremy Stephens fight in June?
I’m just progressing. My takedown defense has been on fire. The only times I’ve been taken down have been when I’m throwing something crazy and I put myself in a bad spot. We’re still working on my offense. My jiu-jitsu game is getting strong again – getting back to my roots of high submission percentage in training, and always trying to grow as a stand up fighter as well.

I pride myself in not being one-dimensional and approaching every fight differently so that they can watch all the film they want and they just won’t figure me out.

Where do you think a win over Stephens puts you?
I think I’ll get a title shot after this fight I just need to go out there and put on another performance like I did my last one. I think I’ve proved that I belong at the top, and it’s just a matter of time before they say “Alright, we can’t deny you at this point.”

Any closing comments?
A lot of people have been asking me why this fight (Stephens) and I think since I didn’t get the title fight that this is really the next big thing for me. I needed a little bit more exposure. I’m a fan favorite, but I’m not a household name and I think a main event on a Fight Night card is perfect for me to go out there and perform well and really get the fans behind me – get a little bit bigger of a fan base.

I’ve been growing my fan base rapidly with these wins and I think this is the biggest stage I’ve been able to get, and I’m just happy to get the chance to put on a good performance for such a big audience.

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