Cub Swanson doesn't care what anyone else thinks. As far as he's concerned, his next fight is for top contender status in the featherweight division.
Call it a motivational tactic. Call it hope. Call it whatever. That's what he's telling himself.
Swanson (18-5 MMA, 3-1 UFC) will meet Dennis Siver (21-8 MMA, 10-5 UFC) in the co-main event of UFC on FUEL TV 7 in February, and even if the winner doesn't get the next crack at champion Jose Aldo, he'll certainly find himself right there at the top of the heap.
UFC on FUEL TV 7 takes place Feb. 16 at London's Wembley Arena. The main card airs on FUEL TV following prelims on Facebook.
"I feel I'm Top 5 just based on my performance, but I feel like this fight is the real No. 1 contender fight," Swanson recently told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio
). "Me and him pose a bigger threat to Aldo if he keeps the belt. That's where my mind is – if I win this fight, I'm getting a title shot. I don't care where they rank me, because I'm barely breaking Top 10 to those people, so I don't pay attention."
Aldo faces former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar in the main event of UFC 156 on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas. But the other featherweight contenders that are clamoring for a shot at the winner of that title fight meet in a month. Ricardo Lamas meets Erik Koch at UFC on FOX 6 in Chicago.
Lamas has a three-fight win streak. Koch has won four straight, and he was given a shot at Aldo earlier this year before he had to pull out with an injury and Edgar took his place. A Koch win over Lamas might vault him back to the front of the pack, where he was this past fall. A Lamas win would give him four straight, and most importantly, where Swanson is concerned, a win over Swanson.
The two fought at UFC on FOX 1, and Lamas submitted Swanson with a second-round arm-triangle choke. That fight, Swanson said, is one he wants again.
"I'm a fan of Lamas, but I really felt in that fight that I was winning that fight and I made a stupid mistake," he said. "I asked for that fight back. I asked the UFC if I could rematch him, and they said it didn't make sense. So all I can do is try to win the best I can in my other fights."
And that's exactly what Swanson has been doing. He has three straight knockout wins over George Roop, Ross Pearson and Charles Oliveira, and the Pearson and Oliveira wins earned him "Knockout of the Night" bonuses.
That's why, in his opinion, a win over Siver should catapult him over the Koch-Lamas winner – he finishes fights, and does so in exciting fashion.
"I know they definitely are (the top two contenders), but in my mind, we're the true No. 1 contenders because of our fighting style and posing a big threat to Aldo or Frankie," he said. "I've been finishing people and I've been fighting tougher opponents, in my opinion. I know with my last couple fights, if I finished in good fashion, that the UFC acknowledges that. They keep giving me good opponents, and I think they like what I'm doing out there. If I have another exciting performance, maybe I will get a title shot. I'm really hoping for that."
Siver is fresh off a downright dominant win over Nam Phan at UFC on FOX 5 earlier this month, and he'll waste no time returning for the fight against Swanson. Siver beat Phan with scores of 30-26, 30-25 and 30-24 – meaning he got three 10-8 rounds from one judge. It was just his second fight at featherweight after a debut win in the division against Diego Nunes.
Swanson, who trains MMA at the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp in Albuquerque, N.M., but also works boxing with Joel Diaz, believes splitting the time and working a lot of boxing has helped his standup game vault to the front of the pack in the featherweight division.
"I travel back and forth, so I get to work with the top-notch boxers and I get to work with some of the best MMA fighters in the world," he said. "As far as the boxers coming into play, they're so fast that it makes my timing and reaction that much better. By the time I get into the fight, I'm not really surprised by someone's speed."
And that's what he hopes will pay off against Siver in February in London. After a short break, the longest of his pro career, he's back at it full steam ahead and hoping another big win might convince a few people that he should be next up for a crack at the gold.
"I'm going to go out there and attack it and I'm super-excited about it," he said.