Cub Swanson: Started from the bottom, now he’s here

Cub Swanson: Started from the bottom, now he’s here

MMA fans saw Cub Swanson do something special at UFC 206. Cub doesn’t really doesn’t really see it, but he’ll take our word for it. He has always taken ‘respect’ very seriously. I remember back during the time of Myspace when the MMA fan found their online voice. He’d call me and say, “Listen to the shit this guy said to me.” He couldn’t and still can’t fathom what compels another human to be so negative towards a person that they’ve never met.

Cub is seeing so much positivity since his fight with Doo Ho Choi. He has been working tirelessly to get to this level, his entire career. Not everyone starts out like Cain Velasquez or Mickey Gall; Where you fight in a small organization and get signed to the UFC within 2 fights. As they say in the pro wrestling business, “He had to pay his dues”.

Cub Swanson: Started from the bottom, now he's here
At WEC. September 2007

Cub didn’t know he was going to be a fighter. In fact, he was more likely to be a career criminal. He ran with the wrong crowd and bad decisions landed him in a juvenile detention facility. Cub began acknowledging his mistakes and knew he needed to make life changes. He focused his energy into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which evolved into MMA. He dropped his knucklehead past and put all of his focus into MMA.

Cub Swanson: Started from the bottom, now he's here
Just a baby Cub.


MMA wasn’t legalized in California when Cub began training MMA. His first 3 fights didn’t even take place in the United States. All of them were held in Tijuana, Mexico. The 3 fights after that were on California Indian reservations. 6 fights into an MMA career and Cub hadn’t been in a single contest that was looked over by a governing body. The day after MMA was finally legalized in 2006, Cub participated in California’s second sanctioned event. The card boasted a plethora of past and future UFC fighters, but Cub Swanson stood out from everyone.

This 22 year old kid from Palm Springs went up against local San Diego prodigy and later UFC fighter, Shannon Gugerty. Cub lost his first pro fight to Gugerty and this fight was the rematch. I vividly remember them announcing Cub’s name and he was vehemently boo’d, because he was facing the local kid. Cub was an absolute savage. Not like now with his unorthodox striking, but his top control and ground and pound were viscous. I actually got a pen and wrote his name down on the fight program, because I wanted to follow this kid’s career. I went so far as to tell him after the fight that if the UFC made the lower weight classes, he’d be a champion there one day.

Cub swanson started from the bottom, now he's here
Cub Swanson at Total Combat, 2006

10 years have passed since then and Swanson is a star. A 20 year old kid who took his first fight at Club Baby Rock in Tijuana is now a 33 year old man. A man that’s a top 5 featherweight in the world and title contender. Getting to the top wasn’t all roses though. Despite trying to leave his sketchy past behind him, unfortunate situations still had a way of finding him. Both inside and outside the cage.

As politely as I can put this… The head of the CSAC in the mid 2000’s was Armondo Garcia and he’s a piece of shit. That’s all you need to know. Cub broke his hand in the Gugerty fight. It healed and 5 months later, he sent his medicals in to the commission for approval for his next fight at King of the Cage. Cub fought and won, then had a title fight set in Total Combat’s 145 pound division, 1 month after that. His opponent would be an 18 year old kid named Dominick Cruz. Right before the fight, Armondo Garcia informs Cub that he isn’t fighting. Why? Garcia claimed that Cub didn’t get signed off on his medicals. Cub did turn in his medicals for review, but Garcia’s secretary forgot to put it on the agenda.

Garcia said he’d ‘let it slide’ (fighting without being cleared) but Swanson must apologize to Garcia’s face. Yes, he needed to apologize for the commission’s blunder and still wasn’t allowed to fight Cruz. Cruz went on to win the title and Cub lost his opportunity. Cub wouldn’t be discouraged and kept his focus set on where he wanted to be. His past and current roadblocks only made him more driven. Tell Cub he can’t do something and see what happens.

Cub swanson started from the bottom, now he's here
Cub Swanson at KOTC in 2006

The wins kept coming and Cub signed to fight in the Zuffa owned WEC. Again, things were going well until his past and bad luck crashed face first into each other.

“I made it to the WEC and felt my past was behind me. An old friend from my earlier troubled days and I were hanging out. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the same place in his life that I was. Some thugs he had trouble with came to the house and opened fire. I’m standing in the middle of a shootout. The Mexican inside of me said, ‘Maybe don’t just stand there’ and the Swede in me said, ‘Ya. Good idea’.

The police came and took everyone’s statement. I’m standing there in this bullet riddled house just thinking, ‘I do not need this in my life.’ The whole situation was a reminder of where I came from and how much I never wanted to go back.”

The shooting was just a minor setback for Cub who realized,

“Life isn’t going to just give everything to me that I want. I accepted it and actually wanted to take the hard road. I never wanted to hear anyone say, ‘That was handed to you. You were gifted the easy route to the top’. Being where I am now, no one can tell me that I didn’t earn everything I’ve achieved.”

WEC is dissolved into the UFC and this new era of talking your way into fights begins. Cub Swanson is a quiet guy who only speaks when he has something to say. Yes, he wants a title fight, but he’s not going to kiss ass or tell everyone how much he deserves it. He speaks through his performance, which is a result of his blue collar work ethic. When Cub speaks about respect he isn’t talking about liking him because of a performance he may have put on. To Cub, respect means you comprehend what he’s seen, resisted, or been through to get here.

Cub Swanson: Started from the bottom, now he's here

In the WEC and UFC combined, Cub Swanson has broken his hands 9 times, his jaw twice, and had his face completely reconstructed. Not succumbing to injuries, losses, or his disreputable past have helped him break down all obstacles put in front of him. However, Cub is never satisfied. In his interviews since UFC 206, he never appears to fully accept the impact he’s had on people. Despite putting on the Fight of the Year, winning a bonus, and getting much warranted praise from everyone… Being the underdog to Choi continues to irk him. *Face palm*

Cub Swanson: Started from the bottom, now he's here
It’s just a flesh wound

“Why was I the underdog? People keep telling me how great the fight was. Have you ever seen me fight? I feel like it’s the same thing that I’ve been doing over and over the last 13 years.”

Whether he wants to accept it or not, Cub Swanson’s time has come. They say you are only as good as your last fight. Well then, Cub is pretty damn good. In fact, he’s never been better. Cub says that he feels stronger and more ready than ever to take his place on the throne. Always taking the more difficult path and working through adversity got him prepared for this. Let’s hope the UFC show him the proper respect he deserves and give him his shot.

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*Aside from Cub’s fighting career, he and Michael Bisping have teamed up to open a new UFC Gym in Costa Mesa. that will open after the New Year.*