We often talk about players in stick-and-ball sports being “in the zone.” A good run of at-bats, a stretch of hot shooting, or burying the biscuit in back-to-back-to-back games earns the athlete the descriptor, and we wait with baited breath to see if they’ll be able to carry their recent run of success over into the next contest.
UFC featherweight contender Cub Swanson is in the zone right now, having won three straight inside the Octagon heading into a co-main event assignment opposite Dustin Poirier this weekend in London, England. It’s not just that he’s been winning, but rather how he’s been winning that illustrates how “en fuego” Swanson has been in the cage as of late.
Each of his last three opponents — George Roop, Ross Pearson, and Charles Oliveira — has found himself staring up at the rafters, wondering what happened. After blistering Roop with a straight right hand last January to earn his first UFC win, Swanson has followed up with consecutive Knockout of the Night bonuses against Pearson and Oliveira, positioning himself within range of the top of the division.
“It feels satisfying, man,” Swanson said of his recent run of success in a phone interview with Sportsnet. “It feels like I’ve been trying to do something and just falling short over-and-over again, and that was tough to deal with; wondering if I was on the right track, and just having to believe in myself. Finally having things pay off, and being on the right track, now everyone else is believing what I’ve been believing.”
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The climb towards the top of the featherweight ranks has been a long time coming for the fighter whose birth certificate reads Kevin Luke Swanson.
High on talent, but short on consistency after starting his career 11-1, quality wins were followed by crushing defeats, with numerous injuries adding to the staccato composition of Swanson’s resume. His UFC debut was delayed on two occasions, both due to injuries suffered in training camp, the second of which nearly derailed his career entirely.
Swanson fractured portions of the left side of his face, and spent nearly a year out of action. During that time, he contemplated hanging up his gloves, but opted to continue. After dropping his UFC debut to Ricardo Lamas, who has since climbed to the top of the division, Swanson found his footing, and heading into Saturday’s contest, his confidence is soaring.
“If I wasn’t on point and just firing on all cylinders, it would have been a bigger issue,” Swanson said of the late shift in opponent to Poirier from stocky kickboxer Dennis Siver. “But I’ve been kind of dying to fight a taller southpaw, so it kind of worked out. I had just gotten back home, and just started feeling comfortable with how I was going to fight the Siver fight, and then I got the phone call.
“I had to call all my coaches and tell them, and every single one of them said the same thing: ‘We’d feel comfortable with you fighting anybody right now, so let’s do it.’ With all my coaches feeling comfortable, it made me feel comfortable. I got excited, and started working right away.”
Chaining together a trio of highlight-reel finishes has carried Swanson up the fight card, landing this fight with Poirier in the co-main event slot on Saturday’s event at Wembley Arena, and placing the 29-year-old featherweight on the first UFC fight poster of his career.
“That means more to me than tons of other things. For me, things like that let me know this is paying off,” Swanson said. “It’s a great card. A lot of the guys aren’t super-well-known yet, but there are tons of dudes who are just crazy killers, so I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m honoured to be the co-main event. I’ve been slowly making my way up the card, and I’m just honoured to be that guy that gets to be a part of the co-main event, represent the UFC, and fight my heart out.”
With Anthony Pettis dropping down to challenge Jose Aldo for the featherweight title, the picture at the top of the division has gotten blurry. Former title challenger Chad Mendes remains in the mix, as are (The Korean Zombie) Chan Sung Jung and Lamas, who has added two more impressive victories to his resume since defeating Swanson.
Saturday’s co-main event combatants are part of the conversation as well, with the winner likely entering the top five of the divisional rankings.
But Swanson isn’t focused on any of that. For the last four weeks, he’s been fixated on Poirier, preparing for the challenge ahead, and working towards extending his winning streak to four this weekend in London.
“I’m training for a hard three-round fight because this kid always comes,” Swanson said of Poirier, who has gone 5-1 in the UFC since migrating over from the WEC. “He pushes the pace, and he’s a grinder like me. I do see him trying to take me down, so I can see myself catching him in a submission from him trying to get a desperate takedown or me catching him with a knee when he’s coming in for a takedown.”
Whenever it happens, however it happens, Swanson is looking to put another stoppage win on the board, and carry his hot streak further into 2013.
“I’m going to try to take him out in the first. If that doesn’t happen, I’m going to try to take him out in the second, and then the third. I’m looking for the finish at all times.”