Even if he lacks a major mixed martial arts championship when he reaches the end of the road, Cub Swanson will one day rest easy with all he has accomplished.
The longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran will meet Giga Chikadze in the UFC on ESPN 23 co-main event this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Swanson, 37, enters the Octagon on the strength of back-to-back victories. He last appeared at UFC 256 on Dec. 12, when he wiped out Daniel Pineda with punches a little less than two minutes into the second round of their encounter. “Killer Cub” has delivered 16 of his 27 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
As Swanson prepares for his three-round battle with Chikadze, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Blinded by the Light
Swanson never stood a chance against Jose Aldo in the WEC 41 co-main event on June 7, 2009 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California. Blindsided by a wicked flying knee, Swanson withered at the feet of the Brazilian featherweight contender in a technical knockout loss that lasted all of eight seconds. Aldo, just 22 years of age at the time, scored a direct hit with his knee shortly after the opening bell, and Swanson crumbled immediately to the mat in pain, his left eye cut by the blow. Follow-up strikes finished it, but it became clear soon after Swanson folded that he was finished. He had won 13 of his previous 14 bouts and had never been knocked out. Aldo went on to capture the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight crown some five months later.
2. Flipping the Switch
Swanson knocked out Charles Oliveira with a looping overhand right in the first round of their UFC 152 featherweight showcase on Sept. 22, 2012 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The Jackson-Wink MMA standout drew the curtain 2:40 into Round 1. Oliveira struck for a takedown inside the first minute but failed to capitalize. Once he returned to his feet, Swanson landed a crippling left hook to the body and, not long after, delivered the fight-ending blow. Oliveira—who missed weight for the match and later moved to the lightweight division—remained upright for a brief moment before crumpling to the canvas in a bizarre delayed reaction.
3. Firefight for the Ages
In a firefight for the ages, Swanson outlasted Doo Ho Choi to a unanimous decision at UFC 206 on Dec. 10, 2016. All three cageside judges scored it for Swanson: 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. Choi found success in the first round with standing knee strikes from the front headlock position, precision jabs and stabbing straight right hands to the body. A brawl developed in the middle frame, giving way to perhaps the most memorable five minutes of 2016. Both men were hurt during wild exchanges. Swanson executed a takedown and mounted briefly before returning to his feet, where he landed everything from a spinning backfist and a cartwheel kick to sweeping hooks with both hands. Still, Choi refused to go away. Swanson was in trouble early in Round 3 but regained momentum with a head-and-arm throw. They spent the final minute firing power punches at one another. His 13-fight winning streak nearing its end, Choi collapsed in the waning seconds and absorbed heavy ground-and-pound until the horn sounded, the crowd inside the Air Canada Centre in Toronto roaring its approval.
4. Caught in a Vice
Brian Ortega submitted Swanson with a guillotine choke in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 123 headliner on Dec. 9, 2017 at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California. His neck hopelessly caught in a vice, Swanson bowed out 3:22 into Round 2. Ortega held his own in the standup exchanges despite a significant disparity in speed and experience. Swanson cut loose with body-head combinations, mixing in leg kicks whenever possible. Late in the first round, Ortega bit down on a brabo choke while standing, rolled to a more manageable position on the mat and had his counterpart in legitimate trouble when the horn sounded. The action followed much the same narrative in the second round—until Ortega bullied his way into the clinch. A knee strike to the body on the break had Swanson bending over ever so slightly and gave “T-City” the only opening he needed. He latched onto the guillotine, readjusted his grip mid-choke in a brilliant piece of technical grappling and forced the tapout.
5. More in the Tank
Swanson stopped a downward spiral and registered his first win in more than two years when he laid claim to a unanimous decision over 2013 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Kron Gracie in the UFC Fight Night 161 co-feature on Oct. 12, 2019 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. All three cageside judges arrived at the same verdict: 30-27 for Swanson. The brutality was off the charts. Gracie ate repeated blows to the head and body but kept moving forward, showing no regard for his well-being as a majority of his attempts to initiate a ground battle failed. While he may have been outmatched in terms of skill in the standup exchanges, the Brazilian’s toughness, grit and unshakeable will kept him competitive in all three rounds and made sure Swanson would not leave the cage unscathed. Gracie wrapped the Californian in full guard with 40 seconds remaining in the fight but failed to capitalize on the brief window of opportunity. The victory closed the book on Swanson’s career-worst four-fight losing streak.