Cub Swanson feeling the pressure to evolve after three-fight losing streak

UFC featherweight Cub Swanson aims to stop a three-fight skid this weekend against Shane Burgos. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Not that long ago, Cub Swanson was a legitimate UFC featherweight title contender. The native of Palm Springs, California, had four victories in a row -- including a thriller against Doo Ho Choi in ESPN's 2016 Fight of the Year.

But it has been more than two years since he won a fight. The 35-year-old featherweight has suffered three consecutive losses, to Brian Ortega, Frankie Edgar and Renato Moicano -- the longest losing streak of Swanson's 15-year career. His last win came in April 2017 against Artem Lobov.

In his first appearance of 2019, Swanson (25-10) will face Shane Burgos at UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Ottawa, Canada.

"I think it's important to stay optimistic, because at the end of the day I lost three fights to three top guys," Swanson said. "But my last couple fights I was trying to do new moves with my striking, new things offensively, and I wasn't focused on my defense and head movement. I got caught with a jab in my last fight, which never really happens.

"You have to evolve in this sport. It's moving faster and faster, and young guys coming up, they're very polished already. So it's important to evolve -- but sometimes in that process, you forget things that were important to your game. That's part of the learning curve."

Swanson has had some positivity in his life since that point, though, as he and his wife celebrated the birth of a daughter and twin sons. He also signed a new UFC contract in 2018. But his winless streak was also coupled with a frustrating period in which he couldn't book a fight.

He said he accepted four fights before this matchup against Burgos was finalized. Those potential fights included a bout against former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who, according to Swanson, deliberated for weeks on whether he wanted to fight at 145 or 155 pounds. During that time Swanson's twins were in the ICU and he wasn't training. By the time Aldo accepted a month later, Swanson wasn't ready to fight on that card in January.

Swanson faced a different kind of adversity last month when it was revealed his teammate, former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) earlier this year. Swanson denies knowing anything about Dillashaw's EPO use, and said he has dealt with allegations since it was revealed on April 9 that Dillashaw was suspended by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for two years.

"It was a shock to all of us, and when people started speculating things -- honestly, nobody on our team was aware of any of that and we were blindsided being tagged in pictures and people making accusations. It was frustrating because it was one person's decision, but we're all working past it. I have nothing to hide and I think everybody knows that."

There have been several swings in Swanson's professional and personal life the past two years, but heading into this weekend's bout against the 28-year-old Burgos, what he wants most is to get back to something he has done 25 times in his career: win a fight.

"I love what I do," Swanson said. "This fight, I need to go out and prove the doubters wrong. There are young guys coming up, trying to make their name off me, and I'm a stubborn dude. I don't want to let that happen. That's very motivating."