The past two years have been crazy for Cub Swanson.
Where the 30-year-old was once seemingly fixed on the roller-coaster ride of unfulfilled potential, those days have long since been in the rearview mirror. Once the Palm Springs, Calif., native found the confidence to go with his diverse, explosive skill set, the results came quickly—and oftentimes in painful, brutal fashion for the person sharing the cage with him.
After spending five years trading leather in the WEC, the Jackson's MMA fighter finally made his UFC debut against Ricardo Lamas at UFC on Fox 1 in November of 2011. Despite getting out to a great start, the scrappy veteran made a tactical mistake in the second frame and was submitted via arm triangle.
The loss stung as Swanson believed he was on the verge of finally putting everything together. And while that final gear may not have clicked on that particular night, it certainly did in his next showing—and hasn't slowed in the slightest.
"Killer Cub" ran the table in 2012 as he picked up victories in all three of his bouts, every one coming by way of stoppage. He kept that momentum rolling into 2013 as he knocked off top-ranked competition in Dustin Poirier and Dennis Siver, respectively. His most recent showing against the German striker was perhaps his most impressive to date as Swanson patiently picked apart the former lightweight until swarming in for the finish in the third round.
His victory over Siver made him successful in five consecutive showings, and while a streak of that caliber would earn a title shot in most divisions under the UFC banner, the featherweight collective is something of a different animal. Champion Jose Aldo danced through a merry-go-round of opponents and bout changes in 2013, and this created somewhat of a backup in the divisional upper tier.
Where Swanson was hoping to get a shot at UFC gold, the way the picture developed pushed him off to the side for the time being. With Lamas getting his long-awaited chance to face Aldo at UFC 169 in February, and Chad Mendes locking up with Nik Lentz at UFC on Fox 9 in December, the SoCal representative was in a holding pattern as he waited for things to play out. In an effort to stay ready in case something came his way, Swanson aggravated an elbow injury that had been bothering him for some time.
Earlier this week he went under the knife to get the bone fragments removed from his elbow, and Bleacher Report caught up with the surging contender to get his thoughts while he is on the mend.
"It had been bothering me for a while," Swanson said. "About six weeks before the Siver fight I took a pretty hard kick to the elbow and I'm pretty sure that's what caused one of those pieces of bone to come loose. I was dealing with that the entire camp and went into the fight with it feeling that way.
"I was trying to rehab it in between training sessions but that's difficult when you are preparing for a fight. After the fight I had it looked at and they said there was no need for me to have surgery just yet. They told me to rehab it and see if it got worse, and it got much worse when I started training again. My plan was to try and wait as long as possible and try to get another fight in, but I didn't have a fight lined up yet, and it made sense just to get it done. It was really starting to bother me a lot at the end, and it's good to have it fixed."
"My goal is to be 100 percent fight-ready by February, but realistically, it could be March," he added. "That's the time frame I'm looking at. I know I'm right there next in line but that could take until October to materialize, and I'm trying to get healthy and get a fight in before that. A lot of things are going to happen by then so we'll see what happens."
While Swanson would much rather be in the mix of the chaos in the 145-pound division, he will have to watch how things shape up from the sidelines. With the streak of success he's put together and the way his game is clicking under the bright lights of fight night, there is plenty for Swanson to be happy about despite his inactivity.
Nevertheless, chasing down the UFC title is his main goal, and he invests the sweat equity to make sure his skill set is in constant evolution.
"I've just been enjoying fighting and my progression so much," Swanson said. "I enjoy making money doing a sport I love. I really don't think about all the different scenarios of who will get title shots because it will drive you nuts. That's why I put my focus on becoming great at my craft and enjoying my progression along the way. That's really been the most gratifying thing for me since I was on that roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. I love what I do and I work hard to become a better fighter.
"My goal is to get better every year. Everything I've done thus far in the UFC has been getting me ready to fight the best. And that's what I'm looking forward to. I have a lot of really interesting matchups out there ahead of me and I'm just barely entering my prime. I just turned 30 and I've really never felt better all the way around as far as strength, speed and cardio are concerned. I feel so well-rounded right now and I'm ready for anybody."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.