It’s been over a dozen years since UFC 66, when the “Iceman” Chuck Liddell steamrolled Tito Ortiz in the rematch to defend his light heavyweight title. That was the first event that the Bronx-born Shane Burgos can recall watching live. He was just 15 years old, not quite old enough to get his first job at the mall. But it was the one that truly opened his eyes to MMA and the UFC, and perhaps — in a roundabout way — played a key role in delivering him to Ottawa this weekend for the biggest fight of his career.
As for his opponent, Cub Swanson? He debuted in the WEC just three months after Liddell’s title defense at UFC 66. Swanson has been at it a long, long time. Back to Burgos’ adolescence, when the first inklings occurred. The MMA fan Burgos has been watching Swanson the whole way. And to punch him in the face is going be one of the strangest experiences of his career.
“It’s awesome, and it’s pretty surreal,” Burgos told MMA Fighting this week. “It’s a great experience and a huge honor to fight somebody who’s so highly touted. Dude’s been around forever. It’s going to be a little bit weird, but as soon as the cage door locks and they say go it’s all out the window. He’s just another man at the end of the day.”
Burgos isn’t wearing soft-toed ninja shoes on his approach towards Swanson or anybody else in the featherweight division, and there is nothing stealthy about what he wants to do. The objective is to beat Swanson in front of a large audience, take his spot in the rankings, and continue his northerly march towards a title.
Still, it’s a strange passing for the 28-year old Tiger Schulmann fighter. He is being asked to go out there and deal Swanson a critical deathblow to whatever title aspirations the cage vet still harbors. Swanson has lost three fights in a row, and a fourth will effectively turn a bad streak into a twilight spiral. It’s a wounded animal he’s facing in the Canadian capital on Saturday night.
“Or not necessarily a wounded animal, but an animal with his back up to a corner,” he says. “With his back up to the corner he has no choice but to fight so I’m expecting an extremely tough Cub Swanson. I’m not sleeping on him at all. Just because he’s coming off three losses, I think it makes him more dangerous, and more hungry.
“But he can be hungry, because I’m starving. I need this win. I want this win, and I need it.”
Burgos is coming off perhaps the most efficient victory of his UFC career, having tapped out Kurt Holobaugh at UFC 230 last November in the first round. Thus far people had seen his ability to piece opposition up with his hands — like he did against Charles Rosa in his UFC debut — yet hadn’t seen his full range of talents.
It was a hell of a response after suffering the first loss of his pro career 11 months earlier against Calvin Kattar, a loss that that he says, “definitely reignited a fire in me, and made me appreciate what it means to win.”
“It felt good to show I’m not a one-dimensional fighter [against Holobaugh],” he says. “I can do everything. If you look at my amateur career and my pro career outside the UFC, most of them were submissions honestly. They had me do a kickboxing fight, and I got a knockout. After I got that knockout that’s when I really got confident in my hands. That’s when I was like, you know what, I like submissions but getting a knockout’s is just so much more fun. But that submission did show off I’m more well rounded.”
The Holobaugh fight was good enough to catapult him back into the industry of “just wait and see” buzz names, where he’d made a cameo before losing to Kattar. He was hoping that he would get a bump up in competition next, but didn’t know what that would look like until he got the call.
“Coming off that win I expected to get somebody with a decent name, but I’m not going to lie — I didn’t expect to get his name,” he says. “I think the matchmakers see what an awesome fight this going to be, and if you’re a fan then you’re excited for this fight.”
Burgos knows the score heading in. Fighting an experienced, savvy veteran like Swanson presents innumerable challenges for him, not the least of which boils down to this: Exactly which Cub Swanson will he encounter?
“He can go out there and have a fight like he had against [Doo] Ho Choi, just a crazy brawl — or he can have one of those more technical fights like he did when he fought against Artem [Lobov],” Burgos says. “So you really don’t know which one you’re going to get. I’m just prepared for anything.
“But I’m not going to put too much stock into what he’s going to do or what kind of fight he’s going to go for, because I really don’t care. It’s going to be my fight, and he’s going to fight my fight, that’s how it’s going to go.”
If all goes his way in Ottawa, Burgos hopes to not only open some people’s eyes to what he’s capable of, but to put the featherweight division on notice.
“This is a short cut to getting a lot of eyeballs on me and putting some shine on my name, letting people know I’m the best in the world,” he says. “Beat a guy like Cub Swanson, I mean, only the best in the world have beat him. A win over him is going to get more attention on me and get me paid in the long run. I don’t really care too much, but I do, because the higher you get ranked, the more you get paid.”
As for how he feels about the fighter he grew up watching, the man he will be tasked with shutting down this weekend — the man they call “Killer” Cub?
“I’m still a fan of his,” he says. “If you’re not a fan of his, you’re not a fan of the sport.”