It was June 7, 2009.
The event was WEC 41, and the main event featured featherweight champion Mike Brown defending his title against former champion Urijah Faber. Brown was successful that night, dispatching Faber by decision, but it was the co-main event that produced the most memorable moment of the night.
It was a fight of much importance, at least in hindsight. Jose Aldo met Cub Swanson to determine the next challenger for Brown's title. Aldo had lost just once, five years earlier in Brazil. Swanson had scored a win over Hiroyuki Takaya in his return to the WEC after a brief sojourn on the independent circuit.
You know the rest of the story. You've seen the highlight hundreds of times. Aldo ran out and drilled Swanson with a double flying knee, earning the knockout in just 8 seconds.
For many, this was the night that the Aldo legend was born. He would go on to defeat Brown for the WEC featherweight title. That title would eventually be moved over to the UFC, and Aldo lords over the division to this day.
Swanson wouldn't have the same immediate impact. He alternated wins with losses over the next two years, with his final loss coming to Ricardo Lamas in his UFC debut.
But since that loss, Swanson is undefeated. He's run up a winning streak that stands at five, with four of those wins coming by knockout. He's defeated four ranked fighters. More importantly, he's shown drastic improvement in his overall game as a martial artist while establishing himself as an exciting fighter with a knack for finishing fights.
Last Saturday at UFC 162, Swanson earned the biggest win of his career by finishing stocky German featherweight Dennis Siver in the third round of a thrilling battle that earned Fight of the Night honors alongside the Frankie Edgar/Charles Oliveira bout.
Against Siver, Swanson displayed all aspects of his game. He used effective grappling. He stayed active when planted on the mat by Siver and he struck with pinpoint accuracy in the final round to finish the fight and establish himself, finally, as a featherweight title contender.
After all this time, Aldo is still at the top of the division. Usually, when a fighter loses to an opponent in just 8 seconds, there isn't much of a need for a rematch. Once you've been dominated, it's hard to sell the fans on the idea that you might have a chance in a rematch.
But Swanson's case is different, and not just because he's earned his title shot with 5 straight wins; he's also a much different fighter than the guy who lost to Aldo in 2009. He's honed his game and become a deadly threat at featherweight.
I don't have to tell you that the UFC's lower weight classes are thin when it comes to potential superstars. There's Aldo, of course, and now there's Anthony Pettis and Frankie Edgar. But when it comes to intriguing Aldo opponents that can be sold to fans, that's about it. Swanson fits the bill. His run has come in front of a large audience, and he's delivered exciting fights and brutal finishes.
In short, Swanson has drastically elevated his standing in the UFC. And while I wouldn't pick him to beat Aldo—he'd be a significant underdog going into the bout, and rightly so—that doesn't mean he should be overlooked when it comes time to figure out who will face the winner of the UFC 163 bout between Aldo and Chan Sung Jung.
Swanson wants the fight. As he told MMAjunkie Radio when asked what he'd like next:
A title fight, and also Ricardo Lamas," Swanson on Monday told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio) about what he would like to do next. "I think I deserve another chance at (Lamas)."
If the UFC elects to give Anthony Pettis his chance at the title, then a bout between Lamas and Swanson would be interesting. Lamas handed Swanson his last loss before beginning his winning streak, and it'd be interesting to see if Swanson has improved enough to avenge that defeat. And if Lamas and Swanson do face off, there would be no doubt that the winner is the absolute top contender for the belt.
Who should get the next featherweight title shot?
Too many contenders rising to the top of a division is a nice problem to have. And while Lamas and his four-fight winning streak (which includes Swanson, by the way) are deserving of a chance at the gold, I can't help but think that Swanson has done enough to earn a championship bout. He's certainly done more than Jung, who essentially got the title shot because he's popular with the fans and Pettis was injured.
But whichever way the UFC elects to go after Aldo and Jung finish their business, you can be sure of one thing: Swanson will continue to fight, and there's a very good chance that he'll continue to win.
And if he does, there's zero doubt in my mind that he'll get his chance to stand across the cage from Aldo, with thoughts of erasing the memories of that 8-second knockout dancing around in his head.