Christmas did not come early for UFC featherweight Cub Swanson.
Earlier this year, freshly recovered from a successful elbow surgery in November, Swanson went to the UFC with a wish list of names he hoped to fight next.
There was nothing all that complicated about the list -- in fact, it was basically just a copy of the featherweight division rankings from the UFC website. Starting from the top, Swanson went through each name with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby.
And crossed all of them out.
“I was told ‘no’ to everybody I asked for,” Swanson said. “I was like, ‘What about this person?’ They said it didn’t make sense for the division.
“We basically sat down and went through the entire list of names from [champion] Jose Aldo all the way down, and they told me why I couldn’t fight them. It was just very clear I would have to wait for the fights I wanted.”
Swanson (20-5) is set to face Jeremy Stephens in a headlining bout of this weekend’s UFC Fight Night event at AT&T Center in San Antonio. Stylistically, the bout should provide plenty of entertainment, but it’s not the marquee fight Swanson asked for.
Stephens (23-9), although undefeated as a featherweight, has yet to break into a top 10 ranking at 145 pounds. Oddly enough, Swanson’s last two victims -- Dennis Siver and Dustin Poirier -- are currently ranked higher than Stephens is.
In Swanson’s mind, he’s the division's No. 1 contender with a win on Saturday. Whoever wins a title fight between Aldo and Chad Mendes at UFC 176 on Aug. 2, that name becomes the only entry on his next wish list.
But as Swanson recently found out, what is true in his head doesn’t always match the UFC’s business plan.
“It’s no secret that if I win this fight, I should be next in line,” Swanson said. “But the UFC can’t guarantee that to me, which I understand. There are so many variables.
“There is that Frankie Edgar-B.J. Penn fight [on July 6 in Las Vegas] -- and that fight shows why I need more popularity. I deserve a title shot way more than either of those two, but they could come in and take it because they are household name[s].”
Despite his belief he should be next in line, Swanson says he has no intention of a post-fight callout this weekend. He says doing would seem like “begging.”
Since early 2012, Swanson has done nothing but produce results. He’s recorded four knockouts during his five-fight winning streak, two of which have netted him performance bonuses.
Swanson, who fights out of Palm Springs, Calif., still credits the recent success to a nasty training injury in 2011, in which he suffered a broken jaw, a caved-in cheekbone and a shattered eye socket.
The injury required a dual surgery, during which two surgeons inserted metal plates into his face and wired his jaw shut. Family members begged Swanson to never fight again, but he ultimately decided he wasn’t satisfied enough with his career to retire.
He hasn’t lost a fight since.
“I think one thing that really changed was I started questioning my coaches,” said Swanson, who trains out of Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA. “Before, I would sit there and go, ‘Yes sir. Yes sir.’ [After the injury], I started asking, ‘Why? Is there a better way?’
“I realized I knew a lot about the game, and if I suggested something to them, maybe it was better for me. They trusted me enough to say, ‘Yes, I’m on board with that.’ It’s more of a marriage now and not me just doing exactly what I’m told.”
Win or lose this weekend, Swanson says he’s likely to be in Los Angeles for the Aldo-Mendes rematch on Aug. 2. He’s hoping he’ll be on the short list to face the winner.