Cub Swanson wants to know whether he has redeemed himself yet, although it seems like a rhetorical question.
Swanson (21-5) extended his win streak to six Saturday in a dominant five-round decision victory over Jeremy Stephens at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Judges scored the headlining bout of UFC Fight Night 44 for Swanson via scores of 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47.
The win improves Swanson's record to 9-3 in his past 12 fights, but the losses have continued to hang over his head even in the midst of a winning streak. Maybe the win Saturday will finally put them to bed.
"I just want to come out here and paint a picture," Swanson said. "What do you say? Six in a row. Have I redeemed myself or what?"
Swanson's three losses came at the hands of champion Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas. Mendes is scheduled to meet Aldo in a title fight at UFC 176 on Aug. 2. Lamas fought for the belt at UFC 169 in February and lost via unanimous decision.
Fighting in his first UFC main event Saturday, Swanson turned in an electric effort -- one that kept in line with his well-established reputation for exciting fights.
He buzzed Stephens (23-10) moments into the fight with a front kick to the chin. He navigated distance expertly and dazzled the crowd midway through the round with an attempt at a cartwheel kick.
Stephens, who dropped to the featherweight division from lightweight last year, was willing to rise to the challenge. He caught a body kick from Swanson and leveled him with a counter right hand in the first round.
He continued to find the range on his right hand in the following round as he rattled Swanson with one right hand counter after another. His efficiency fell off after the first 10 minutes, however -- perhaps due to an injury to his left hand.
"In the first or second [round], I threw a left hook and my whole left hand went numb," Stephens said. "I continued to use it. I came here for the fans of San Antonio."
Injury to Stephens or not, it felt like Swanson's night. He hurt Stephens with a kick to the liver in the third round and again with the same strike in the fifth.
"After the second round, I asked coach Greg [Jackson] if he wanted me to turn it up," Swanson said. "He said, 'I'd like that.' So, I said, 'Will do.'"
With Jackson urging him on, Swanson kept the pressure on late in the final round even though it was clear he was ahead on the scorecards. He nearly managed to put Stephens away following the second liver kick but eventually ran out of time.
Asked what he wanted next, Swanson, ranked the No. 4 featherweight in the world by ESPN.com prior to the fight, simply stated, "I don't beg."
Anything short of a title shot would seem like a robbery at this point for Swanson. His loss to Aldo, in June 2009, lasted a mere eight seconds, but, as he meant to point out with his line of questioning after the fight, he has made up for that by now.
The win moves Swanson into a tie with Aldo and Dennis Bermudez for the longest active win streaks at featherweight. The California native's run includes four knockouts.
Gastelum stays hot, tops Musoke
The only thing not to like about Kelvin Gastelum's welterweight campaign is the difficulty he's having making weight.
Gastelum (9-0) moved to 3-0 in the UFC welterweight division with a unanimous-decision win over Nicholas Musoke. All three judges scored the bout for Gastelum 29-28.
Fighting out of Yuma, Arizona, Gastelum won "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series crown as a middleweight in 2013 but elected to drop to 170 pounds immediately after the show. He has looked incredible thus far, with wins over Brian Melancon, Rick Story and Musoke.
He has, however, consistently struggled to make weight. He forfeited 20 percent of his fight purse Saturday after weighing in 1.75 pounds heavy the day before. He also missed weight on his first attempt for UFC 171 in March but eventually hit it.
"I trained hard for this fight so I expected nothing less than a W," Gastelum said.
Inside the cage, Gastelum has proved to be a heavy task for his opponents. Musoke (12-3) wilted in the face of Gastelum's pressure in this fight, which was relentless over the course of three rounds.
Musoke got off to a good enough start. He tagged Gastelum within the first minute with a combination set up by a quick head kick attempt. The Swedish middleweight outgrappled Gastelum early as well, picking him up and slamming him to the mat later in the round.
Gastelum regrouped in the following frame, though. He started to walk Musoke back with jabs and uppercuts, and unloaded combinations any time he trapped him along the fence.
"I didn't expect him to come out and push the pace the way he did," Gastelum said. "It definitely caught me off guard when he was able to secure the takedown. My ground game is much better than his so he really didn't have much for me once he got me down."
Musoke hung in through the final round but was clearly on the losing end of most of the exchanges. A low leg kick by Gastelum nearly spun him off his feet. A vicious-looking elbow landed for Gastelum moments later inside the clinch.
Gastelum, 22, earns his third decision victory in the Octagon. Musoke suffers his first loss since June 2011.
"I want the finish every time I step into that Octagon but at this level in the UFC, it doesn't work that way," Gastelum said. "I'm a company man so I'm prepared for whatever the UFC and Joe Silva want next for me."
Ferreira digs deep to outlast Craig
Ferreira (8-3) dominated Craig for the majority of the 15-minute affair but had to dig deep to survive the final round after eating a right head kick from Craig.
The kick landed after Craig (9-3) worked back to his feet following a Ferreira takedown. Stunned, Ferreira circled away and stalled long enough to hear the final bell.
The late flurry was enough to win Craig the round but not the fight. Judges scored the contest 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 in favor of Ferreira.
"I feel so good right now," Ferreira said. "I'm happy to train in the best camp in the world with the toughest guys. That's what prepared me for a hard fight tonight."
A former contestant on "The Ultimate Fighter Brazil," Ferreira showcased an attribute that had been missing from his game in the past -- patience.
He knocked Craig down in the first minute of the fight with a straight left-hand counter and nearly submitted him with a guillotine choke after following him to the ground. Craig eventually escaped the hold, however, and got to his feet with a smile.
In previous fights, Ferreira had fallen victim to his own aggression, but he kept his composure after the early knockdown. He opened a cut on the top of Craig's head and scored an intelligent takedown later in the round.
Pace slowed in the middle frame, as Ferreira eased off the gas a bit and Craig failed to establish any sort of rhythm.
A perfectly timed elbow counter from Ferreira opened a second cut in the third, this time on Craig's forehead. Ferreira scored a takedown moments later and eventually took the back and worked for a rear-naked choke.
With 45 seconds left in the fight, Craig escaped the position and got back to his feet, where he landed the head kick. Perhaps due to fatigue, his late charge fell short of putting Ferreira away.
"I tried to keep the distance and attack him with straight punches and elbows as he came in towards me," Ferreira said. "I was completely focused tonight on what I had to do and I stuck to the game plan. It really paid off."
A member of the Blackzilians camp in Boca Raton, Florida, Ferreira rebounds from a first-round knockout loss to C.B. Dollaway in March. Three of the 29-year-old's four UFC wins have gone the distance. Craig falls to 3-3 in the UFC.
Lamas edges Dias by decision
Ricardo Lamas managed to avoid a second consecutive loss, but it was close.
Lamas (14-3) earned a unanimous decision over Hacran Dias via judges' scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. It was his first appearance since suffering a lopsided decision loss to Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight title Feb. 1 in Newark.
The 145-pound contest was closer than the scorecards indicated, as Dias (21-3-1) countered Lamas' game plan fairly effectively. Immediate cageside stats had Dias out-landing Lamas in total strikes, 57 to 50.
"I feel good about the win tonight," Lamas said. "There's always a lot of pressure coming off a loss so even though it wasn't the most exciting fight I'm happy."
Dias was most successful early in the fight. He stuffed an early takedown attempt by Lamas and landed a solid left hook and counter right hand moments later.
Lamas continued to push the pace in the second round, however, letting loose with combinations in the center of the cage. Dias responded with a well-timed overhand right that briefly dropped Lamas to the canvas, but he recovered instantly.
The high pace showed its effects on Dias in the final round, as Lamas neutralized the Brazilian's standup by closing the distance and fighting in the clinch. He took Dias' back near the fence early in the round but couldn't secure a rear-naked choke.
"Dias is a very tough guy to finish," Lamas said. "He has had over 20 fights, and no one has been able to finish him. I broke my hand late in the first round, and it got progressively harder to grab onto anything and punch effectively. I was trying to put it out of my mind and just keep pushing because regardless of an injury we've got a job to do in that Octagon."
Lamas now has won five of his past six. ESPN.com ranked the Illinois native the No. 7 featherweight in the world going into the bout. Dias, who had not fought since May 2013, suffered back-to-back losses for the first time in his career.
Hester outpoints Neto to stay unbeaten
Clint Hester remains perfect in the UFC, despite his closest fight to date.
A former contestant on "The Ultimate Fighter," Hester (11-3) narrowly outpointed Antonio Braga Neto via split decision.
Judges Joe Soliz and Aladin Martinez scored the fight for Hester 29-28 while judge Sal D'Amato scored it 29-28 in favor of Neto.
The middleweight bout lived up to its billing as a sort of striker versus grappler affair, with Hester dominating Neto on the feet but struggling mightily on the ground.
Neto (9-2) easily took the first round, scoring an outside trip 90 seconds in. The Brazilian grappler trapped Hester's left arm beneath his body at one point, which allowed him to land a series of unanswered right hands on the floor.
The second round was the closest of the fight and ultimately determined the outcome. Hester opened with punches and kicks to the body but made a crucial mistake when he elected to take Neto down.
Neto swept Hester moments later and ended up in top position, where he remained the majority of the round.
It was all Hester in the third, as he started to let his hands go on a tiring Neto. A slip by Hester allowed Neto to get back into top position, but only briefly.
Despite getting swept in the second round, Hester went back into Neto's guard in the third, where he landed a hard right elbow to the face.
"I felt like I had to go for broke at the end there because it was a close fight and you never want to leave it in the hands of the judges," Hester said.