Cub Swanson is a man on a mission.
Following a 2012 campaign where the 29-year-old collected three impressive victories, Swanson is looking to keep his momentum rolling in the new year. The Southern California product will have the opportunity to take his next step up the divisional ladder when he squares off with Dustin Poirier, who stepped in for an injured Dennis Siver, in the co-main event of UFC on Fuel TV 7 in London, England.
The bout against Poirier comes at a critical time in the 145-pound weight class. Over the past two weeks, contenders Frankie Edgar and Erik Koch had their title hopes turned back, and their losses have put the race to fill out the divisional upper tier in full swing.
Swanson understands the urgency of the moment, and the Jackson/Winkeljohn-trained fighter is looking to make a statement against the Louisiana native.
"Poirier is a well-rounded fighter," Swanson told Bleacher Report. "I wouldn't say he's phenomenal anywhere but the guy is good everywhere. That can be a problem if I'm not well-prepared. With Siver I was expecting a stand-up battle but with Poirier I know he's going to be looking for a takedown early and mixing up his kicks and punches well. I definitely have to be more aware of all aspects of the fight.
"We are both aggressive fighters who like to work at a high pace. We both fight with a lot of heart and always show up in shape. It could be a quick fight or a long, drawn-out three-round scrap. I'm ready for whatever.
"I'm trying to finish him right away," Swanson added. "I'm prepared for three rounds of hell and I'm going to keep that pace the entire time. I'm going to try to put him out in the first. I feel that is what I have to do to make a statement."
As the longest-tenured featherweight on the UFC roster, Swanson has watched the 145-pound weight class steadily develop over the years. That process has accelerated in recent months with several high-profile lightweight fighters dropping down to test the 145-pound waters.
The trend does not appear to be slowing down, as former WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis recently stated he was entertaining a possible drop down to featherweight to face Jose Aldo. Swanson appreciates the attention the bigger-named fighters are bringing to his weight class and has zero issues with welcoming them to the weight class.
"I think it is kind of funny because people keep dropping down and the fighters who are coming down are thinking it is going to be an easier road and it's not," Swanson said. "This division is a different animal. At the same time, guys dropping down brings more attention to the division and that attention is well-deserved because the featherweight division is exciting. I'm happy to be a part of it. 155 pounds is so stacked and to see some of those big-name guys come down and want to get some...I'm like hell yeah. That only brings more popularity to our division and makes bigger fights for us to take.
"When somebody drops down and takes a fight with me, I take it as they are looking at me like I'm an easy fight. I take it very disrespectfully. But that is my mentality."
For years Swanson has battled to match his skill set to expectation. That being said, his recent three-fight win streak has indicators pointing to the scales of potential and progress finding a balance. Swanson has earned back-to-back "Knockout of the Night" honors and believes his career is firing on all cylinders. While a title shot is the ultimate goal, Swanson believes everything will work itself out in due time.
"I'm not really thinking about a title shot too much right now," Swanson said. "If I get the title shot next I would love it, but I have this fight first and I have to perform well. I just want to be mentioned up there with the top names. If I stay on top of my game then I will get my shot. I'm not really concerned about it all too much right now. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing.
"All the hard work I've put in at the gym is paying off, but experience plays a big role too. I'm training smarter and all of the consecutive wins I've put together has me in a place where I feel as if I'm doing things right now. It gives you confidence that you are on the right track. I feel great and I'm ready any opponent. I have myself a tough guy in front of me and I'm excited."
Make no mistake about it, fighting is in Swanson's blood. From his days as a troubled youth to re-igniting his career to become one of the top featherweights in the world—Swanson knows the sacrifices it takes to alter the course of one's journey.
Where fighting used to be Swanson's physical outlet to vent frustration, it has now become a family affair, as older brother Steve has joined him in the professional ranks. "Killer Cub" believes it will only be a matter of time before his brother is making an impact inside the Octagon.
"My brother Steve [Swanson] is a 125-pound fighter and is 10-0 right now," Swanson said. "He would make a great addition to the flyweight division and truly deserves to be in the UFC. He has five consecutive first-round finishes, is a heavy-hitter and it won't be long before people know who he is. I would love to see him fighting inside the Octagon."
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.