Swanson eager to silence Lobov, continue UFC rise

Cub Swanson is coming off a dramatic unanimous decision victory over Doo Ho Choi at UFC 206. Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The last time fans saw featherweight Cub Swanson fight, he was in a bloody battle with Doo Ho Choi at UFC 206. The matchup, which saw two men trade a barrage of punches, kicks and knees for three straight rounds, was named ESPN's Fight of the Year for 2016.

It was also a night that will forever cement Swanson's legacy as a mixed martial artist who's ready to leave it all in the Octagon.

"I told my teammates and coaches that I've never hit somebody so hard," Swanson told ESPN.com. "When they took my gloves off, every single knuckle was bruised, down to my fingertips. I was just throwing everything I had and he was taking it.

"It was just one of those things where everything fell into place. That night I found out I was going to be a father, so it pretty much was the greatest night of my life."

Swanson (24-7) said he'll do his best to top his last outing when he fights in the main event of "UFC Fight Night: Nashville" on Saturday against Artem Lobov (13-12-1). Following up such a performance isn't an easy task, but the pregnancy of Swanson's girlfriend -- their baby girl is expected in August -- is a motivating factor for the 33-year-old Swanson. He is excited about being a father and wants his final fight before that emotional moment to end on a positive note.

"I have so many plans inside and outside the Octagon," he says. "A win is everything for me. All of the big plans I have start with me winning this weekend, so I'm very motivated."

Swanson has further incentive. Lobov has been vocal in interviews and on social media regarding his view of Swanson. An Ireland native, Lobov has won two straight. He repeatedly called out Swanson after defeating Teruto Ishihara in Belfast in November. After weeks of back-and-forth, the two agreed in February to a fight.

Swanson's decision had less to do with moving up the division and more to do with timing and availability. He says most of the higher-regarded featherweights were unable to fight in this time frame or would have been rematches for Swanson, which the UFC tries to avoid unless it's a title bout. Plus, Swanson relishes the opportunity to shut Lobov up.

"The younger generation of fighters, they want to try to make a name for themselves," he says. "They want to be something that they're not. It's going to come crashing down on them. [Lobov] is one of them. He's trying to put on this persona and this front like he's the baddest dude in the world, and I get to prove him wrong and get him off that high horse."

Swanson isn't taking his opponent lightly. Despite Lobov's 12 losses, he has noticeably improved each fight and has performed better against top competition. In his most recent win, a decision victory against Ishihara, a full arsenal of powerful leg kicks and powerful right jabs were on display. Lobov's skill set has been developed over the years. He has served as UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor's training partner at Straight Blast Gym in Dublin.

And it's not just Lobov's abilities in the Octagon that have improved by working with McGregor. Swanson believes Lobov has seen his stature within the sport, and his ability to get high-level fights such as Saturday night's, increase due to the backing of the outspoken McGregor.

"With the record that he came in with on 'The Ultimate Fighter,' he only got into it for that reason," Swanson says. "What pisses me off is there are plenty of great fighters out there with 12-0 or 15-1 records that should be in the UFC. Then a guy like that comes in and everyone thinks they don't deserve it."

But on Saturday night at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, the records and beef go out the window. They'll square off in a five-round showdown to settle the score, and Swanson is ready for whatever may occur.

"I'm not going to shy away from a brawl," he says. "Wherever I see the fight going when I'm in there and feeling it out, that's what I'm going to do. I've prepared moving forward, moving backward, getting takedowns, defending takedowns.

"I've prepared for everything, and now I'm just going to go in and fight. When I think less and just go out there and perform, I do my best work."