Cub Swanson is a man on a mission.
After running the table in 2012 and picking up three consecutive victories, the resurgent featherweight entered 2013 looking to shift his drive to a title shot into high gear. Swanson was successful on the first step of his quest to become a contender in the new year when he defeated Dustin Poirier in the co-main event of UFC on Fuel TV 7 in London, England.
The 29-year-old Palm Springs native was originally slated to face Dennis Siver in the bout, but the German-born striker was forced to withdraw due to injury. With Siver on the sidelines, the talented young American Top Team product stepped up to the plate, and after a three-round back-and-forth, Swanson emerged victorious on the judge's score cards.
The victory in England pushed Swanson further into the crowded pack of contenders in the 145-pound division, and he will be looking to take another step toward title contention when he steps back into action at UFC 162.
In a fitting turn of fate, the Jackson's MMA-trained fighter will get the fight he was preparing for back in February as "Killer Cub" will square off with Siver on July 3.
With the divisional race heating up, Swanson understands how much is on the line at UFC 162, and he intends to bring the fight directly to Siver.
"I always love this point," Swanson told Bleacher Report. "I'm in shape and all my coaches agree on the game plan and my motivation for the fight. I'm very comfortable. I know he's tough as hell but I'm going to try to knock his teeth in."
"I know he's going to be strong. He's a muscular guy and I know he's going to try to take me down. He's going to try to mix it up and he has some fancy stuff, but I've been working everywhere. I'm trying to fall back in love with my jiu-jitsu. I've been getting the gi back on and really getting back into that aspect of my game. My takedown defense is rock-solid right now. My striking is always evolving and I'm trying to always be better. I'm never satisfied with where I'm at and I work hard to keep my skills moving forward."
The bout between Swanson and Siver comes at a crucial and chaotic time for the featherweight division. While champion Jose Aldo was originally slated to face surging lightweight contender-turned-145-pound-title challenger Anthony Pettis, an injury to "Showtime" forced the Duke Roufus-trained fighter out of the bout.
With Pettis out, the UFC tapped Chan Sung Jung to step in against the Brazilian phenom. The "Korean Zombie" was slated to face Ricardo Lamas at UFC 162, but the shake-up ultimately forced him off the card entirely and further clouded the title picture in the 145-pound division.
"With Pettis' last win and beating Cowboy—that's impressive," Swanson answered when asked about the divisional shake-up. "Cowboy is my teammate, and I believe he had an off night, but that win was still impressive. He's fought top guys and I really can't say anything about him. Yeah, it sucks that he drops down and gets a title shot right away, but I can see how it happened. But the Korean Zombie I just don't see it. I don't think the level of competition he's faced has been on the level of what [Ricardo] Lamas or I have faced. It's kind of baffling. I just don't think he deserves it."
"The division is definitely crazy right now and I'm ready to take whatever fight is going to get me to the top. I'm confident and whatever fight they are going to give me I'm ready for. Right now, that fight is against Siver. He's a tough dude and we are both right there in the rankings at No. 5 and No. 6. That's the fight I'm concentrating on right now and I'm ready to go."
While his days competing in the WEC brought mixed results, Swanson has been a wrecking ball under the UFC banner. The proud Southern Californian has racked up four consecutive victories with three coming via devastating finish. His performances inside the Octagon have lead to an elevated profile in the sport, and because of his rise to contention, his inspiring backstory has come to light.
Before Swanson was handling business inside the cage, he battled through a rough period in his life. A series of bad decisions landed the heavy-handed featherweight in the juvenile detention program, and it was a negative experience he's turned into a positive by mentoring local youths at the same facility he was incarcerated in.
From Bleacher Report's own The Fighting Life to Fuel TV's The Ultimate Insider, Swanson's story has now been shared with a large audience. And while the sudden attention has created some friction in his life, Swanson can see the inspiration his story has brought to those who need it the most.
"I've always thought everything about me was kind of normal," Swanson said. "I know everybody goes through hard things in their lives, and I can't say I've had things super-hard because I know there are a lot of people who have gone through much worse. But I've definitely had an interesting life. The only reason I'm really enjoying my story getting out there is because I've seen how inspiring it has been for kids in my area that are getting into trouble and don't really feel like they can become something.
"It's been hard for my family as well because these stories have shed light on some things that have never really been talked about. It's been a little hard for me sometimes but I think it's worth it. For kids who come from where I come from or are in similar situations like I had growing up, it is proof that you can overcome things. You play the cards you are dealt. You can't choose who your family is going to be or the situation you are born into, but you can choose who you are going to be and what you turn out to be."
"It's just like a loss in a fight. You hit a rough patch and it doesn't define who you are. You make a mistake in life and that doesn't mean you are a bad person. You just learn from it and try to do better. If you don't, that shows who you are. If you are not prepared to always be better, that not something to be proud of. If you learn and always try to be better, then you can't be mad about that."
With past struggles behind him, Swanson now focuses on the next obstacle on his path to a title shot. He knows the dangers Siver brings to the cage, but the crafty veteran has a versatile arsenal of his own. Both fighters have the ability to end things in brutal fashion, and Swanson is looking forward to the scrap.
"I have to watch out for him getting comfortable and letting him play his game," Swanson added. "But I'm not going to do that because that is what I do. I play my game. I focus on me. I know what to look out for from him, but I'm going to fight my fight because he's stepping into my cage. That is the bottom line. I'm going to try to knock his teeth in."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.