By Paul Balsom
Amidst all the UFC cards, EliteXC’s “Renegade” card, the Randy Couture drama, and the introduction of HDNet Fights and M-1 Global, many people may not remember the amazing WEC card taking place on Versus on December 12.
There are 3 title fights featuring Urijah Faber, Doug Marshall, and Paulo Filho. A major point of interest of the night, however, is the fight between Cub Swanson and UFC and PRIDE-veteran Jens Pulver.
Swanson has been on a tear in the WEC 145-pound division, beating opponent Tommy Lee via guillotine choke in the first round in March, and most recently showing a dominating performance against Micah Miller in June, winning an exciting unanimous decision victory.
I got the chance to catch up with Cub Swanson on Thanksgiving Day, and he told me all about his road to becoming a fighter, as well as his thoughts on his upcoming fight with Jens Pulver, Pulver’s reported injuries, and much more.
Paul Balsom: So, how’s training going the second time around?
Cub Swanson: It’s going really well. At first, I was dragging ass to get back into it but now I’m full steam ahead. No problems.
PB: How does it affect your mind and body when you’re expecting to fight, you’ve trained, your body is at its peak, and then your fight gets canceled?
CS: It’s a really a huge letdown, especially when you train hard. I was definitely in awesome shape. I trained 8 weeks for it. So, to not fight was kind of devastating for me.
PB: Absolutely. Well, you’re fighting in the WEC now. How do you like fighting for them, with Zuffa running it, and you getting to be on free TV?
CS: I love it. I feel like as long as I go in there and show off some of my talent, and get some good fights in there, they will respect me for it. TV has really bumped my name, people are starting to know who I am now, and they treat me good. So yeah, I can’t complain at all.
PB: How does being on TV affect your nerves? Do you think about it at all before a fight?
CS: Not at all. Doesn’t bother me a bit. The more pressure I feel is being put on me, I actually step up and perform. I feel like I’m better than average at performing under pressure and when the cards aren’t in my favor… it works out well. I’ve done a lot of mental training throughout all my fights. So I feel good.
PB: Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing? How was life growing up for you? How did you eventually decide that you wanted to become a fighter?
CS: Quick in a nutshell, my dad died was I was about four months old. After a couple of years, my mom got into some heavy stuff. I got adopted… me and my brothers, and we lived with one of my dad’s cousins and his wife for about 10 years. Was I was about 14, we moved back in with my mom. We started to get into a lot of trouble. It was kind of, you know, a crazy time in my life. I got into a lot of trouble. Drinking, drugs, everything… stuff I’m not too proud of. I went to juvenile hall for a year. Then, I got my act together. I started playing soccer, and I got a job working with kids with disabilities. Later on, I kind of stumbled into jiu-jitsu.
Once I stopped playing soccer for junior college, I needed something to compete in or else I’d have too much idle time… and that only gets me into trouble. I needed something to fill my time, so I started doing jiu-jitsu, and it just sprang from there. Between the jiu-jitsu and working with kids with disabilities, it really taught me patience, and I learned how to look at things differently.
PB: You have your fight with Jens coming up. Jens, after TUF, and Zuffa have made a big deal of him dropping to 145. It’s possible that he may be seeing this fight as a triumphal entry into the WEC. What are your thoughts on that?
CS: I think he did. I think he thought he was going to plow right through me… until he started getting little injuries and not having the best training. I think he started to hear that I was training hard and I was ready for him. When he saw me in person, and then I wasn’t a little guy, and I wasn’t in bad shape. I was already in shape over a month out from the fight.
I think he maybe thought, “Maybe I just rethink this, and start over.” I know he got injured, but I would bet every cent that I have that it wasn’t as bad as he’s making it sound, or else he wouldn’t be fighting so soon. I think he got a second chance to regroup, and I don’t think he’s taking me lightly at all this time. I think he knows that I can pose a big threat to him.
PB: In your fights, you’ve been someone who varies it up with submissions and knockouts, but Jens loves to bang. Do you see this as an opportunity to try and get him down to pound or submit him, or does that inspire you to stand toe to toe with him?
CS: I definitely feel like there’s no way I can just go in there and shoot on him, you know? So, I’m definitely working on the boxing, and I’m going to bang with him. If the opportunity comes where I get him down and pound him out, that’s great. But until I feel like I’m losing the exchanges, I’m going to bang with him. I feel like I’ll gain more respect if I go toe to toe, and I prove that I’m dangerous wherever I’m at.
I work hard at everything, and I’m only getting better and better. I know he’s trying to look at footage from my last few fights, but he’s different than all the other fights. The last guy I fought, he’s trying to look at footage on that. The dude was 6’1’’ and he wasn’t southpaw… I’m not going to strike the same as I was then. I think I’ll just stand against him, toe to toe.
PB: I was going to mention that. Your fight with Jens is going to be a lot different than your fight with Micah Miller, with Micah’s reach advantage and his jiu-jitsu. Jens isn’t looking for this kind of fight at all. Do you prefer a style like Jens has, as opposed to a style like Micah’s?
CS: I think a fight with Jens is better for me, just because of the fact that he’s pretty one-track minded. He knows it’s way too late in his career to start doing jiu-jitsu. I’ve been working very hard on my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu, and my striking for a long time now. I feel like that’s why I’ve been successful.
He’s going to be looking to knock me out, and if I shut him down on that, he’s going to be screwed. Micah didn’t… well I know that he didn’t hit as hard as Jens does, but he had a good ground game. He actually had more weapons than Jens. With Jens, I think he’s a really good fight for me.
PB: You always manage to maintain an extremely high level of action in your fights. How do you keep that level of cardio?
CS: Just train like I am… all the time. Whenever I’ve competed, in whatever I’ve done… tournaments and fighting, I always try to get my opponent to keep my pace. If you try to keep my pace, you’re going to gas out, and I’m going to force you to keep my pace. In my last fight with Micah, I didn’t realize how fast it was until after, but I didn’t even have my full cardio because of some mistakes on my part on the re-hydration after my weigh cut. It wasn’t even a bad weight cut. Just stupid mistakes on my part that won’t happen again. So that’s not even my full potential at all.
PB: This is definitely an important fight for both of you. Have you spoken with the WEC, or have they approached you about what might happen should you beat Jens?
CS: Pretty much, it’s not for sure, but from what it looks like, the winner of Jens and me gets the winner of Curran and Faber… and I’ve been waiting to fight Faber for years now. We’ve been aware of each other for a long time. I just want to focus on this fight, and hopefully get through, and then I want to fight for the title.
PB: How do you think a fight between you and Faber breaks down?
CS: I think I’m definitely going to have to strike with him. If I can train with some really good wrestlers to get my takedown defense sharp, I think I’d ruin his day. My takedown defense is getting really good because I’ve been training with Tyson [Griffin] and Grey [Maynard] and Joe Stevenson and all kinds of people since June off and on for this fight with Jens.
Even though I’m trying to take them down and box with them, they shoot on me and my takedown defense is getting good. So if I just concentrate on that for my camp, and my striking, I feel like maybe I can stop his takedowns. I know he’s got good takedowns… explosive. I feel like if I train really hard I can stop it, and force him to bang with me.
PB: So what does a typical day of a fight look like for you?
CS: On the day of a fight, I sleep in. I try to relax. Get something to eat. Try to move around a little bit. I try to get relaxed a little bit more in my room. Mentally, I try to make myself think it’s a normal day. I talk to my corner men, and hang out. I don’t need to be nervous. There’s no point in that. I think being nervous is good, about an hour before your fight, but anything more and you’re just wasting energy. So I concentrate on things like that… staying calm.
PB: On December 12, how do you see this fight going?
CS: Either I’ll catch him with a punch and he goes out, or if we end up clinching I’ll take him down and pound him out. It’s one of the two, and I don’t see it happening any other way.
PB: Do you have anybody you would like to thank, or give a shout out to?
CS: Yeah man. My fans that actually think I’m going to win this fight, I appreciate it. The ones who don’t, it’s cool. I hope to have your respect after this fight. My sponsors: Tagg Radio, Tapout, and MMA Fanatics. I’ve got some new ones that I’m not 100% if they’re sponsoring yet, but I’ll thank them next time. Thanks to you for having me on, I appreciate it.
PB: Absolutely. I really appreciate you taking the time out on Thanksgiving.
CS: No problem, man. It’s just another day for me, man. I don’t get holidays until the fight is over.
PB: There you go. If you don’t mind I’d love to catch up with you after the fight and get some thoughts from you.
CS: Oh, for sure. For sure, man. Happy Thanksgiving.