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Artem Lobov to Headline UFC Nashville Card Against Cub Swanson

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Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

With one finish from ten fights, it’s safe to say the UFC’s first foray into Brooklyn, New York, for UFC 208 was rather dull. Even UFC president Dana White said his highlight of the event was the plane ride home on Saturday night.

Besides the fact the New York State Athletic Commission has a lot of work to do to train up its referees and judges—evidenced by some odd officiating and scoring in the main event between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie alone—some of the biggest takeaways from UFC 208 were provided by the announcements of some future events.

UFC 212 sees Jose Aldo and Max Holloway unify the featherweight titles in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A personal favourite of mine in “Raging” Al Iaquinta is to return at a UFC Fight Night card in Nashville, Tennessee, against Diego Sanchez on April 22—a card headlined by a featherweight scrap between Cub Swanson and Artem Lobov.

Wait, what?

Having just come off a win against the highly-touted “Korean Superboy” Doo Ho Choi in a bout which was a leading contender for 2016’s Fight of the Year, Swanson’s record moved to 24-7 and he had once again established himself as one of the serious players of the featherweight division.

Swanson was long considered a future title challenger with consecutive wins over George Roop, Ross Pearson, Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Denis Siver and Jeremy Stephens—that six-fight winning streak snapped by two losses to perennial 145lbs contender and former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, as well as present interim UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway. Those defeats to top fighters were overcome by the ongoing three-fight win streak over Hacran Dias, Tatsuya Kawajiri and the aforementioned Choi.

The recent resurgence of Swanson, punctuated by his ballsy win over knockout artist Choi, led many to believe he was due another big name opponent to stake a claim for an elusive featherweight title shot. “The Russian Hammer” Lobov is not the name to take the Californian to that level as of now.

Lobov rose to prominence on the international MMA scene as a contestant on season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter. Coached by long-time friend and SBG Ireland teammate Conor McGregor, Lobov reached the final of the series—putting paid to his unspectacular record of 11-10-1 (1 NC) by handily dealing with his three opponents in the TUF house with knockout victories.

Now with a record of 13-12-1 (1 NC), Lobov has gone 2-2 in the UFC since earning a contract with the promotion. A lacklustre unanimous decision loss to Brazilian jiu jitsu wizard Ryan Hall in the TUF finale, followed by another lopsided decision going against him versus Alex White, led many to believe Lobov wasn’t ready for the so-called MMA big leagues. But, the Russian-born representative of Ireland has since posted two wins over Cesar Gracie’s gym alum Chris Avila and Japanese featherweight Teruto Ishihara.

Those were two solid yet unspectacular victories over a pair of fledgling featherweights trying to claw their way up the UFC reckoning in their budding careers. An increase in competition for Lobov would be welcome—hell, the man is one of the few who is seemingly genuine in his willing to fight all comers—but this booking against Swanson makes little to no sense for the UFC.

It’s a fight which has come totally out of left field. Yes, the pair have traded barbs over social media for a couple of weeks. But, the back-and-forth was rather tame by today’s standards—Swanson traded harsher words with McGregor circa 2014.

It’s not a grudge match of any sort and the contest doesn’t do much for Swanson’s business case for a title shot any time soon. You could definitely argue the case this is a win-win for Lobov—few are giving him a chance at victory so a loss wouldn’t have a detrimental impact on his career, while an unlikely win would do wonders for his standing.

Perhaps the UFC are trying to recapture the excitement experienced in Swanson’s last outing against Choi with Lobov’s penchant for throwing caution to the wind with his striking in a similar vein to the aforesaid South Korean. But, that’s clutching at straws—fights which look good on paper seldom deliver as evidenced at UFC 208; and this fight doesn’t necessarily look good on paper in the first place.

Lobov is 1-3-1 (1 NC) in the six fights he headlined events in Europe before competing under the UFC lights—losing to Saul Rogers, Andre Winner and Michael Doyle, defeating Martin Svensson, drawing to Pawel Kielek and having a decision win overturned to a No Contest against Artur Sowsinski in a controversial manner, with Sowinski’s camp arguing Lobov had a teammate among the judges scoring the bout.

Lobov has done well to maintain his position on the UFC roster so far, defying the many doubters he had coming off his season of The Ultimate Fighter. Though, with his biggest win coming against a young featherweight prospect in Ishihara, it’s hard not to think this significant step up in competition may come too soon for him.

Opportunity knocks for Lobov and you’d be a fool to think he wouldn’t grab this chance with both hands. But, it’ll take some convincing from the UFC to have you believe this is a contest worthy of main event status.

Check out these related stories:

Cub Swanson, Doo Ho Choi, and What Makes a Fight of the Year

Lobov Believes TUF Bout With Hall Was The “Most Boring Finale Ever”