When Cub Swanson was in recovery from a training injury in 2011 that broke his jaw, caved in his cheekbone and shattered his orbital bone, he questioned if he should return to the sport that caused it all.
For family members who watched him undergo a surgery that inserted multiple steel plates into his face and wired his jaw shut -- performed simultaneously by a plastic surgeon and an oral specialist -- retirement seemed like an easy call.
In Swanson’s mind though, it kept coming back to the same question, over and over.
“I was like, ‘Am I satisfied with my career? If I stopped now, would I be happy?’” Swanson told ESPN.com. “It was always a very quick, ‘No.’ That’s driven me since.”
Swanson (16-5) has a big opportunity to point his career in the right direction on Friday, when he’ll meet fellow featherweight Ross Pearson on the main card at a UFC on FX event in Atlantic City, N.J.
Since returning from that devastating facial injury, Swanson is 1-1 in the UFC. The win came in the form of a fairly major upset over George Roop in January.
Currently in his eighth year as a professional mixed martial artist, Swanson has never had a problem staying relevant, but he’s also never made a ton of noise. It’s something the California-based fighter says he takes personally and wants to fix.
“It’s always been a little bitter for me,” Swanson said. “I feel like I put on great fights but I don’t get mentioned with the top people or in the top fights. That’s always bothered me and I take it personal.
“I see the names at the top of the lists and I’m like, ‘Ah. I could beat those guys.’”
At this point in his career, it’s time for Swanson to prove that. He couldn’t ask for a better chance to earn more of the spotlight than this fight against Pearson.
Stylistically, the featherweight bout should be an action fight, as each fighter will be fully confident in his own boxing skills. The Brit will be labeled as the boxer, but a little-known fact about Swanson is he works in the same gym and under the same trainer as welterweight world champion Timothy Bradley and has even considered stepping into a boxing ring professionally.
“If I just needed a break, I’m still young, I would definitely try it out,” Swanson said. “My coaches have been trying to get me to do it for a long time. I hang with all those guys just boxing and I know I would do well. I’ve seriously considered it.”
Like his last fight against Roop, Friday’s bout will be one that few expect Swanson to win. Most oddsmakers list Pearson as a 2-to-1 favorite.
Those who have watched Swanson’s career, though, know this is a very winnable fight if he’s at his best. The knock on the 28-year-old is that he’s capable of looking either absolutely spectacular or spectacularly flat at any given moment.
Swanson is familiar with that assessment and believes he’s figuring out how to always be at his best. He does the bulk of his training under Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, N.M.
The focus currently for Swanson is to get him to flow inside the cage. Stop thinking. Have fun. It sounds a lot like what teammate and current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones constantly refers to. Swanson wants to get to a similar place.
“I definitely feel like fans have not seen the best of me,” Swanson said. “Greg is really helping me on feeling comfortable and free and not getting stuck in one style.
“My biggest thing has always been that I need to be consistent as a fighter -- and when that happens I’ll go on a tear. That’s my main goal.”
After contemplating the end of his career one year ago, though, Swanson ultimately returned because he had to reach the next level. He’ll look to possibly do so here.