For a split second last week, Cub Swanson thought all of the stars had finally aligned for his first UFC title shot to become a reality.
Swanson campaigned vigorously to step into UFC 218’s main event and challenge UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway after Frankie Edgar withdrew from the bout due to injury. In over a decade with the WEC and UFC, Swanson has long been regarded as one of the best 145-pound fighters in the world, but has never competed for a title. He thought that dubious distinction may end at UFC 218, but it wasn’t meant to be — former UFC champion Jose Aldo was ultimately awarded the short-notice match against Holloway, despite Aldo having lost to “Blessed” via third-round TKO in June.
The decision marked another luckless turn of events for Swanson, who admitted Monday to being frustrated by the UFC once again passing over him in the title picture.
“It was between me and Frankie (for the original title shot), and then Frankie got it, and it was a tough pill to swallow, and I got over it,” Swanson said Monday on The MMA Hour. “And I thought for sure, if anybody wouldn’t pull out of a fight, it would be him, because I think he’s the kind of guy who would fight through a torn knee or anything. But I guess he has a fracture in his face or something like that, and that’s something that you can’t fight through, so I was shocked when I found out that he was pulling out, and then I was like, ‘Wow, this going to happen.’
“I had such an amazing camp. I helped T.J. (Dillashaw) train for his fight. Over here at Jackson’s now, I’m ahead of schedule. This is just too perfect. And I was trying to get ahold of the UFC, let them know, and they told me that they were trying to figure it all out, it’s kinda madness. And then they told me that they were going to give it to Aldo.”
Swanson, who currently rides a four-fight win streak highlighted by back-to-back ‘Fight of the Night’ victories, was already preparing for a Dec. 9 contest against rising featherweight prospect Brian Ortega slated for UFC on FOX 26. Swanson acknowledged that the UFC’s decision to go with Aldo made sense on some levels, and admitted that he “would’ve flipped out” if the shot against Holloway went to any of the other names he heard being bandied about by UFC matchmakers — names like lower-ranked contenders Ortega and Darren Elkins.
Still, Swanson was disappointed, and now he can’t help but wonder what the decision means for his future.
Swanson’s fight against Ortega marks the final fight on Swanson’s current UFC deal. And it’s fair to wonder whether his contract status played a part in Swanson not getting the title shot at UFC 218.
“It’s very hard to see,” Swanson said. “Dana (White) told me that they want to make me happy, they want to keep me around. He was genuine about it when he said. I just kinda find it hard to think that’s going to happen, considering circumstances. I mean, they could’ve made me happy really quickly and they went a different route.”
Swanson explained that prior to the Edgar news, the UFC previously tried to negotiate a new deal with him. Swanson said the company made him a “good offer,” but he ultimately declined it, stating instead that he wanted to roll the dice and fight out his contract, just as many noteworthy UFC names have done over the past few years.
“I just explained to them that, hey, I’m getting on the later side of my career,” the 34-year-old Swanson said. “I’ve never been doing better. I have a family now, and it’s like, if I’m going to start concentrating on my retirement and setting myself up so I’m not left with nothing at the end of the day, I should be getting paid more. The money that I have coming in, I’m investing, I’m doing all of the right things. I’m not blowing money. I’m not that guy. And it’s like, man, if I had more money to work with, I could really set myself up, so that’s what I’m fighting for.”
Swanson said he contacted the UFC after news of Edgar’s withdrawal was made public, and while the UFC expressed interest, promotion officials also told Swanson that they had “a lot of options” for a replacement opponent.
Before a title fight, it’s commonplace for a UFC fighter on the last fight of their deal to renegotiate a new contract, mainly so the promotion won’t be left dealing with a champion on an expired deal. But Swanson said the UFC never approached him to restart negotiations after the opportunity at UFC 218 became available, and Swanson is confident in saying contract talks would never have been an issue.
“We could’ve come to terms before and made this fight happen,” Swanson said bluntly. “They know that.”
Ultimately, the whole situation has left Swanson — the owner of a 10-3 UFC record — a little disheartened about his standing in the company.
“I’m going to get paid the most if I fight for a title or hold a title. That’s when all of the big opportunities come,” Swanson said. “But I haven’t had that opportunity, so I wanted to fight out my contract only to see what other companies were going to offer me and be able to show the UFC, like, ‘Look, I’m worth this. Come on, step it up.’ Because I want to fight in the UFC. I love it. But I also want to be taken care of and be paid what I’m worth, and feel that I’m appreciated. I like that. I’m old school.
“And looking back at all of the people who have gotten title fights — Chad Mendes got multiple, Frankie Edgar has gotten multiple, Aldo’s gotten multiple, ‘Korean Zombie’ got one out of nowhere, (Ricardo) Lamas has got one. All of the people at the top have all gotten them. And when Max took forever to get one, I was very vocal about him deserving a title fight. So I just don’t see why, in 10 years with the company, I couldn’t have gotten one. I feel like maybe they just don’t think that highly of me.”
Some critics online have pointed to Swanson having lost to Holloway in 2015 as reason for him not getting the shot. Swanson acknowledged that the loss was a bad one, but explained that it came in a difficult time in his life.
Plus, Swanson reasoned, it’s not as if Aldo hasn’t lost to Holloway either.
“I didn’t know how to block some things out, and when I went into the fight (in 2015), I was carrying so much in with me,” Swanson said. “And I really thought that I was better than Max everywhere, so I thought that I could just go in there and figure it out. I didn’t really have a good set gameplan that I like to have in my mind when I just start going. And he beat me up.
“I broke my hand in the first round, I broke my jaw in the second round, and I fought him for three rounds and I gave it my all. And after that I took a year off, I ended up working with a sports psychologist and just learned how to channel things and block certain things out, and focus on the most important thing — and the most important thing is having a perfect performance. And I’ve been on a winning streak ever since. So, yeah, I did lose to him two-and-a-half years ago, but Aldo just lost to him, so what’s the difference?”
Swanson said he hasn’t enjoy talking about his situation, but with his Dec. 9 fight sneaking up on the calendar, he knew questions would be inevitable, so he hoped to clear the air so he could return to preparing for his fight against Ortega.
Swanson expects Holloway to defeat Aldo in the same manner he did at UFC 212, and he admitted that if all goes well against Ortega, he plans to make a guaranteed title shot part of his negotiations for a new UFC deal.
“That would definitely have to be part of the terms,” Swanson said. “It’d be guaranteed title fight and guaranteed good money. That’s the only the way (I re-sign), and I’m sure they know that by now. But I’m in the position now where I have to go out there and be spectacular Dec. 9, so that’s my main motivation. And you best believe it’s going to happen.”