Cub Swanson understands these obvious differences better than anybody right about now. He first had Siver in his sights for Saturday’s fight in London. Then Siver got injured and morphed into Poirier, which required Swanson to reconfigure his settings on the fly.
Yet if anybody’s been through the fight game’s most active pun of “rolling with the punches,” it’s Swanson. He’s had fights tailored, altered and scotched as much as the next guy.
“I had just gotten back from Albuquerque training with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, and they said, ‘OK, this is the way we’re going to fight this fight [with Siver], these are the things we like,’” Swanson told ESPN.com. “Then I get back my gym in California [Tru MMA], and I get on the same page with my boxing coach and then they go 'Siver’s out, here’s a new guy.'
“The other guy [Siver] was a short, stocky, standard fighter, and the new guy [Poirier] is a tall, lanky southpaw. I just kind of laughed. I had a feeling something was going to happen, so I said, let’s do it. I was excited because I like fighting guys who are a little bit different every time, and I feel like it shows depth in my game.”
The Poirier-Swanson co-main event at UFC on Fuel TV 7 looks good on paper. Poirier rebounded from his loss to Chan Sung Jung in a No. 1 contender spot by choking out Jonathan Brookins in December. Swanson is coming off of a knockout victory over Charles Oliveira at UFC 152, which will always be remembered for Oliveira’s delayed shutdown process after absorbing a couple of body shots and then the big overhand.
In fact, it was the third knockout win in a row for Swanson, who re-emerged in 2012 as a contender at 145 pounds. Just like that, there’s power in his game again.
“I thought about dropping down to 135, started dieting down, but I didn’t feel very good and started to get weak,” Swanson says. “I decided to give weightlifting and strength training another shot. The first few times I tried lifting weights I didn’t like the way I felt, and we finally developed a way of working out where I wouldn’t lose my speed.
“I walk around about 175-180 pounds, and get up to about 185. I was 185 when I got the phone call for this fight. I put on a lot of size, and I don’t feel like I’ve lost any of my speed. I have my accuracy and my speed and finally have some power behind it. I’m not worried about breaking my hands anymore. It’s all coming together.”
Suddenly the featherweight division -- which has always been a popular destination for resurrectionists and transplants such as Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida and Nik Lentz -- is strong. So strong, in fact, that the “Korean Zombie” and Ricardo Lamas are waiting on title shots while Jose Aldo defends his belt in August against Anthony Pettis. Figure in Chad Mendes and up-and-comers such as Poirier and Swanson, and 145 begins to look like one of the deeper divisions in the UFC.
So where would a win stack Swanson in the grand scheme of things?
“I know I’m right up there,” he says. “I’m not afraid of anybody. I have a pretty good record and my losses are to the top guys. I want to get back in that mix, and be mentioned in the top featherweights. As far as title fight talk, I just want to be mentioned -- I don’t really care about it right now, I’m just enjoying the ride and enjoying winning fights.”
Swanson refers to his rough patch between 2009 and 2011 as “growing pains,” mixed with a little bad luck. In that stretch he went 2-3, with losses to Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas. In other words, he lost to the division’s elite. At some point, he says, “I’d love to get those losses back,” but heading into Saturday’s fight there’s a renaissance going on with Swanson. It’s in his voice. It’s a kind of emphasis that comes with experience and prioritizing. What it says is that wins and losses and pecking orders are all fun conversations.
But his emphasis is on remembering why he’s in the fight game to begin with.
“I’m finally enjoying what I do,” he says. “I don’t do a whole lot of interviews usually. I just like training hard, fighting, and getting back to my normal life.”
And the wiser Swanson feels he’s looking at his past when he sizes up Poirier.
“I think he’s a tough kid,” he says. “He’s gotten this far off of being well-conditioned, having a lot of heart and being well-rounded. He kind of reminds me of myself a couple of years ago. I just don’t feel like he’s turned that corner yet and I feel very good about this fight.
“I feel like he plays into my style very well and it’s going to make for a good fight.”