Cub Swanson is hitting his stride as a professional mixed martial artist.
After years spent attempting to live up to his potential, the proud Southern Californian is finally firing on all cylinders. In his past two outings, Swanson has taken his game to the next level as he has scored TKO victories over George Roop and former TUF winner Ross Pearson.
Two outstanding performances where Swanson's showed off elusive footwork, pinpoint accuracy and put away power have opened eyes as he attempts to climb the ladder into the divisional upper tier. He has always had the talent, but skill alone doesn't produce a champion, and this is a fact Swanson is painfully aware of.
In order to reach the top of the sport, it takes an intangible called confidence, and when a fighter's belief in his abilities equal his comfort level in the heat of live competition, it is a beautiful thing to watch.
"My confidence is great right now," Swanson told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "I'm coming off a big win and it is important because I haven't been able to put together any type of win streak in awhile. I've had some rough times in this sport but I've made it through them and I'm still here.
"I'm still improving and it feels good. I've always trained hard and I've never slacked. After everything I've been through I'm starting to feel like all the work I've put into this is starting to pay off. Just knowing that makes me happy. I'm in a good place and I'm happy to be fighting for the UFC."
Swanson faced a difficult task when he stepped into the Octagon against Pearson in Atlantic City. The heavy-handed Brit had looked impressive in his featherweight debut against Junior Assuncao and was garnering early talk for possible title contention. There was the feeling Swanson was to be a solid test on his way up the ladder, but the Palm Springs native had other plans as he finished Pearson with a flurry in the second round.
"I was happy with my performance against Pearson," Swanson said. "I think I did very well but I've watched the video a ton of times and there are things I didn't like. That's just me though. I'm very critical of myself. But I executed the overall game plan nicely and I was accurate. What we saw going into the fight worked exactly as we had planned.
"It was tough for this camp because I started heavy and when I was trying to catch my flow I felt a little sluggish on my feet. But it was due to the extra weight and I knew after weigh-ins I couldn't allow myself to regain too much weight because it was a critical issue. I knew if I was cautious of my weight going into the fight I would be able to be light on my feet and that was a huge factor.
"Getting off first and beating him to the punch was going to be key and that is how it played out."
Swanson is a proud member of Team Jackson/Winkeljohn, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The camp is heralded as one of the most successful in the sport. While he was riding high after his hard earned victory over Pearson, the backlash Coach Jackson received following the performance of Clay Guida, certainly got under his skin.
"I think the criticism Coach Greg Jackson gets is ridiculous and it makes me angry," Swanson said. "He's my coach and I think it's unnecessary. When we fight and do well nobody has anything to say. But when one of us doesn't have a great performance then it is our coaches fault. I think it's stupid and it's not fair. He's never once told me to take it easy, relax or pace myself. He wants you to finish the fight and to get out there and give it all you have.
"Obviously he wants you to fight smart but he wants you to be looking to finish. For him to be criticized about that stuff is a bunch of bull. It's just haters man. So many people have so many nice things to say about him that people get annoyed by that and start looking for anything they can find to be negative."
While Swanson's striking was certainly the highlight of his bouts with Roop and Pearson, it may be his improved footwork that is the unsung hero. He has always been an extremely active fighter, but the power he has been able to generate in his most recent outings have made the difference.
"Footwork isn't something you hear people talk about too much but it's something as fighters we have to be able to utilize," Swanson said. "We have to learn our body types and what style of fighting suits us. I'm fast and I move well so I know how to come in at weird angles and keep my feet under me. I'm looking for that power shot and I might not be able to fire off anything after it if my feet aren't under me. Footwork is a huge part of my game.
"I do a lot of hurdles and ladders in training. I mix those in with a bunch of crazy agility drills to make sure my footwork is where I want it to be. I'm always working on balance and I have to give it up to my two strength and conditioning coaches for always pushing me. I have a coach in California and one in New Mexico, they both have different variations in their drilling and between the two places it has been awesome."
His recent success has Cub Swanson feeling like the fighter he always knew he could be. Despite the roller coaster ride which comes with wins and losses in this sport, he knows those challenges have only served to make him a better competitor. They will also prepare him for the tough challenges which lie ahead.
If he is going to make a run at the featherweight title, he will most likely have to face a few familiar faces along the way.
"I definitely see myself in that top five mix but I'm in a weird situation now," Swanson said. "I have a couple of people ahead of me and a few of them are injured. I'm just sitting behind them waiting to fight. The way I won my last two fights has pushed me up there and I'm excited about it.
"I'd like a title shot soon and I'd be very grateful but I'm really just having fun out there right now. I'm trying to make a name for myself and get the fans to know who I am. I'm not the most popular fighter but I've always tried to be exciting and put on good shows. That's what I'm really focused on and if the opportunity comes for a title shot I will gladly take it. I'm not afraid of Jose Aldo.
"Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas are both fights I'd like to get back. But it all depends on how the UFC is with rematches. In the past they haven't been too big on rematches unless they really need to be done and I don't know how this is going to play out. It's not my call but I'd definitely take them.
"I'm just happy to be here to be honest. I've been here a long time. I think I'm the original 145-pound fighter still in the division and I've definitely been here the longest. I've been around and I'm happy that I'm still around. I'm really getting to my full potential right now and feel like this is my time."