Cub Swanson: Why It’s Make or Break Tonight vs. Frankie Edgar

Image Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY

Tonight at UFC Fight Night 57 in Texas, it’s make or break time for Cub Swanson.

Somehow.

It’s hard to say why.

He’s ranked higher among UFC featherweights than his opponent tonight, former lightweight titlist Frankie Edgar.

He’s on a six fight winning streak, many of them spectacular TKO victories over strong opposition like Dennis Siver.

He should be star already. It shouldn’t be make or break time.

But he isn’t… and it is.

Why?

They say perception is reality, and it’s definitely true of one Kevin “Cub” Swanson.

Swanson is one of those MMA success stories you love to hear about — tailor made for a UFC Primetime special. But, maybe not enough have heard his story.

The Southern California native, of Mexican and Swedish origins, lost his father at a young age and spent time at a juvenile detention facility for a robbery in his youth. He found the martial arts as a refuge from street gangs and petty crime.

He seemingly turned it all around on the mats. Before his fighting career got rolling, Swanson worked for United Cerebral Palsy, helping children with disabilities.

Now 21-5 as a pro, he’s ranked second among UFC featherweight contenders, behind only Chad Mendes. He’s got a wild, wide-open fighting style which one would think would have no problem attracting fans.

Yet, he has second billing behind tonight’s opponent Edgar, who is ranked third. In fact, Edgar is between a two-to-one and three-to-one betting favorite over Swanson.

I asked Jon Anik earlier this week about Cub simply not having an identity to the general public, despite being the most tenured ZUFFA featherweight.

“I think you’re right,” Anik replied. “Cub is a little under-exposed. He certainly has his fan base, his sponsors, the “Killer Cub” clothing line — and it’s his 16th fight under the WEC/UFC banner. He’s been in some big fights before, but nothing like Edgar – (who has been) scheduled for nine five round fights in the UFC. That is experience you can lean on. But Cub thinks he can finish him. It’s the perfect fight at the perfect time; someone’s going to emerge in a good spot in a really good division.”

(For the rest of that interview, click here.)

For all his experience, Swanson has only one five-round bout on his record. But maybe now’s the time.

The meteoric rise of the UFC in recent years has obviously benefited Swanson. He’s taken the martial arts from the focus of a restless youth to a successful career.

But maybe the deluge of UFC shows has worked against him, too. He’s been a certified bad-ass for the biggest MMA promotion in the world for years, but still hasn’t earned much in the way of fame. Nor has he earned a title shot.

It’s become evident that no one can keep up with the UFC’s huge schedule of events, so as many opportunities exist for fighters — the danger also arises for a talented fighter to get lost in the shuffle.

Sure he has a few losses on his record. So does Michael Bisping, who has also never earned a title shot. But Bisping enjoys huge popularity.

Conversation about featherweights, even as I spoke with Anik, shifts immediately to Conor McGregor, who fights Siver next — a man Swanson just beat.

For all his success, Cub Swanson somehow just isn’t there in the public eye — and he may be running out of chances.  If he doesn’t win tonight, it’s hard to imagine him getting there.