Cub Swanson has become a bit of a forgotten man in the UFC’s featherweight division. But that all changes Saturday night when he steps into the main event role at UFC Fight Night 44 against Jeremy Stephens.
Swanson (20-5), regarded by many as the No. 1 contender to Jose Aldo’s title, hasn’t fought since last July when he finished Dennis Siver. He’s on a five-fight win streak that includes four finishes, but was passed over by Chad Mendes for the next crack at the belt.
“He is a worthy No. 1 contender right now and in my eyes, as already done enough to earn a title shot,” said Jon Anik, who will call the card alongside Brian Stann, during a recent interview with FightLine. “(UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby would agree, it just didn’t happen for one reason or another.
“The stakes are really high for both guys and I feel that will help both performances. Both guys are hitting their prime and are ready for a shot at the featherweight title. But only one will get it.”
Swanson met Aldo once before, losing a title-eliminator in the WEC via TKO in eight seconds. He’s won seven of nine since, including stoppages vs. Charles Oliveira, Ross Pearson and George Roop.
“Cub has been around the game for so long that I don’t expect the year layoff to have a factor for him,” Anik said. “He is getting so much better. He is a technical guy that can finish you in any number of ways.”
Anik continued, stating one of the reasons he has been on the sidelines since July comes from “not a lot of fights making sense for him to take because of his standing and ranking. This fight, though, makes sense.
“Stephens is a high-profile opponent who is undefeated in the division. He puts on ‘Fight of the Night’ performances, and this bout has a lot of upside for both of them despite Stephens not being highly-ranked.”
Stephens (23-9) is 3-0 since the move from lightweight to featherweight, defeating Darren Elkins and Estevan Payan via decision and Rony Jason with a 40-second head-kick knockout.
“Stephens’ power has come down with him, but I think this will be a fight in which he is at a speed disadvantage,” Anik said. “His maturity has improved and he benefits from supremely good coaching at Alliance MMA. He hasn’t had a difficult weight cut in three ties, but this is his litmus test because he is fighting an elite guy (at featherweight).”
Anik, though, feels like the headline bout and main event billing will provide Swanson with the perfect opportunity to make his mark and secure a future title shot against either Aldo or Mendes.
“I think this is Cub Swanson’s opportunity to grab the microphone and ask for a title shot (after winning),” Anik said. “I think he is so mentally tough and as long as he is healthy, can be the best ’45er in the world on any given day.”
FightLine will be providing complete coverage of Swanson-Stephens, along with the rest of the card Saturday night.