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Cub Swanson punches Jonathan Martinez in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on October 15, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Cub Swanson Still Loves This Game After All These Years

Veteran Featherweight Reflects On Lengthy Career And Lessons Learned Ahead Of Return To Action Against Hakeem Dawodu At UFC 292: Sterling vs O'Malley

Achieving greatness in any venture takes almost maniacal focus; a willingness to commit all your time and energy to a single goal, a single pursuit, all while accepting that it still may not be enough to reach your destination.

We talk about fighters needing to be selfish, to operate with tunnel vision, in order to scale the divisional ranks and reach the summit, but in doing so, they can often forget to appreciate the journey itself and the different milestones they pass along the way.

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“I spent so much time so close to getting a title fight, being right there, trying to chase the belt, and not really being able to appreciate the greatness of my career and appreciating it as a whole,” said Cub Swanson, reflecting on his 19-year, 41-fight career ahead of his return to action this weekend against Hakeem Dawodu.

Cub Swanson poses during a UFC photo session on October 12, 2022 at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kaylie Foster/Zuffa LLC)
Cub Swanson poses during a UFC photo session on October 12, 2022 at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kaylie Foster/Zuffa LLC)

A fixture in the Top 15 at featherweight for a number of years, the Palm Springs, California native got to the doorstep of challenging for championship gold at a couple different points over the years, only to suffer an untimely setback or the stars to simply not align in his favor.

There have been big wins and frustrating losses, highlight reel finishes and post-fight bonuses, all while establishing himself as one of the most consistently entertaining and universally beloved fighters on the roster.

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But it wasn’t until tragedy prompted him to start focusing on setting himself up for life after fighting that he started to recognize all that he’d accomplished and appreciate all that he’s done in this sport.

“When my manager passed away… it was…” began Swanson, pausing to fight back tears and clear the catch in his throat. “It hit me pretty hard, and when I was gonna fight Giga (Chikadze), I was so concerned about missing him on fight night.”

Cub Swanson Career Retrospective
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Cub Swanson Career Retrospective
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Kami Safdari wasn’t just Swanson’s long-time manager — he was an ever-present force in his life; a mentor, father figure, big brother, and the best man at his wedding, amongst other things. He passed away in December 2020 of a heart attack: Swanson fought Chikadze on May 1 of the following year.

“I was talking to a sports psychologist, trying to deal with it, and I was okay with it, but what I didn’t expect was that once I made weight and was able to get through the camp and do it all, the sport just didn’t seem as important.

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"After I lost that fight, I went back home and said, ‘This isn’t it. I’m not done fighting; I just need to get my priorities straight. Fighting is gonna end, regardless, for me — I don’t know when — but let me get a running start on what I’m gonna do next.”

So Swanson began actively coaching emerging fighters and representing them through Bloodline Combat Sports Agency, which he founded with Safdari and Mani Ahmadi. He also started doing commentary for LFA, and his fight with Dooho Choi from UFC 206 was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, all of which gave him a new perspective on things.

Cub Swanson punches Dooho Choi of South Korea in their featherweight bout during the UFC 206 event inside the Air Canada Centre on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Cub Swanson punches Dooho Choi of South Korea in their featherweight bout during the UFC 206 event inside the Air Canada Centre on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“I definitely appreciate it. I’m definitely happy,” Swanson said of his career, finally able to look back after years of only focusing on what was ahead of him. “I’m definitely proud and, at this point, I’m just having fun.



“Being able to (plan for what comes next) has made it easier for me to have a date when I’m gonna be done with this and be okay with it. Now I’m living through my fighters, helping them — I get to do some of the fun stuff without the pain.”

In addition to avoiding the aches and pains that come with constantly being the one preparing to compete and chasing after those championship dreams, focusing on his fighters has allowed Swanson to pass on the wisdom and knowledge he’s accrued over his career, including an important piece that he was reminded of himself in his most recent outing.

Last October, the veteran featherweight dropped down to bantamweight for the first time, landing in a matchup with ascending prospect Jonathan Martinez, who entered on a three-fight winning streak.

Cub Swanson Stops Elkins In The First Round | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Cub Swanson Stops Elkins In The First Round | UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Daukaus
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The fight ended late in the second round, with Martinez having chopped Swanson down with a torrent of punishing low kicks.

“No disrespect to Martinez — I think he’s a great fighter, and I think since our fight he’s really stepped up — but I didn’t fear him,” admitted Swanson, who acknowledged he felt the same way years earlier when he ventured into the Octagon with a Hawaiian hopeful named Max Holloway who was starting to make some waves behind him in the 145-pound weight class. "Those fights, I went in thinking, ‘I’ll figure it out when I’m in there,’ and those are two fights that blew up in my face. I know I need to fear my opponent a little bit.”

And that little bit of fear is there when it comes to his fight this weekend with Dawodu.

Cub Swanson punches Darren Elkins in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 18, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Cub Swanson punches Darren Elkins in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 18, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“I respect him, I think he’s dangerous, but I know that I match up well,” he said of the Calgary native, who returns to action for the first time since UFC 279, where he dropped a unanimous decision to Julian Erosa. “I know I need to fear my opponent a little bit, because that little bit of fear means they live in your head and they make you prep.

“Instead of thinking, ‘Naw, I’m good; I did enough,’ it’s ‘I need to be in the gym.’ That’s what you need because this is a sport with psychos. The best fighters are the ones you have to kick out of the gym.

“I jokingly talk about that with my fighters: ‘You gotta have the sickness, man. You gotta be a little crazy. You gotta want it so much more than everyone else.’”

Nearly 20 years in and with the foundation for life outside the cage well established, Swanson admitted he’s not as “sick” as he was during the single-minded days focused on reaching the top of the featherweight division, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still dial it up when the time comes.

Cub Swanson prepares to fight Darren Elkins in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 18, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Cub Swanson prepares to fight Darren Elkins in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 18, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“It’s definitely not what it used to be, and that’s why I fight a little bit less,” he said. “I’ve been fighting once a year because it’s there, but I just don’t need it on all the time. When I put my mind to it and I get in fight camp mode, I’m competing with 20-year-olds non-stop and I’m not losing s***! I’m not losing rounds. I’m not losing sprinting matches. I’m not losing strength and conditioning. I’m a competitor, so when I turn it on, it’s on.

“I don’t feel the need to have that year-round like I used to,” he added with a laugh. “I’ve earned the right to turn it off and on.”

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The sickness switch has been on for the last bunch of weeks, which included a trip to Denver for a month to train with UFC lightweight Rafa Garcia, marking the first time since Swanson and his wife Kenda started a family that he’s been away from them during a training camp.

Saturday night, the 39-year-old Hall of Famer aims to show that he’s still improving and that has plenty left to offer, hopeful that a strong showing this weekend can help entice the UFC to bring an event to his hometown in the not-too-distant future.

“There are a couple more things I want to accomplish — one of which is fighting in my hometown, getting the UFC to come to my hometown — and I need to show that I’m still there,” said the Palm Springs native. “I think the last one I can chalk up to not being my best in a different weight class, but not performing this weekend starts to tell a different story.

“I need to go out there this weekend, kick some a** and look good doing it,” he added. “And I got no problem doing that.”

UFC Fight Night: Luque vs Dos Anjos took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on August 12, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass