Cub Swanson needs no introduction. The 37-year-old MMA fighter, who made his WEC debut in 2007, has fought in the UFC since 2011. Since turning professional in 2004, Swanson has amassed a record of 27 wins and 11 losses while gaining a reputation for being one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. In preparation for his upcoming matchup at UFC Fight Night, Swanson sat down with Virus to discuss the growth of the sport, advice for future fighters, and what drives him as a competitor today.
Cub Swanson has seen it all in his 17-year professional MMA career. Beginning his career in 2004 and spanning organizations from the King of the Cage, WEC, and UFC, he’s seen the sport grow from backyard taboo to gaining mainstream popularity. But Swanson’s longevity is no surprise considering his unique outlook on the sport. While wins and titles are worthy goals to strive for, he’s driven by something more internal. He views MMA as a means for fighters to grow and better themselves as individuals.
And even today, after 38 professional fights, the 37-year-old Swanson still sees room for improvement.
“I started doing this sport to better myself, and that’s a lifelong goal. I still feel like I can do better and that drives me,” says Swanson as he prepares for his next UFC fight.
Swanson also takes a long-term approach to his training camp, starting 14 weeks before a match to give himself plenty of time in case of injuries and room to take days off. He uses his camps to sharpen his grappling and striking tools, with conditioning and cardio thrown in.
“I wouldn’t change anything about my journey because it made me who I am today. I’m just grateful I had the courage to stay on my path”
Swanson experienced the growth of MMA first hand. He recalls how taboo the sport was when he first started his career, to the point where he didn’t want to tell people he competed. But Swanson knew that the mainstream would eventually come around. Ultimately, he credits his courage and passion for sticking with the sport from its earliest days.
“I knew over time that people would change their opinion about the sport and see it the way I did, as the purest sport there is,” says Swanson.
Swanson has also seen that generational shift as both a competitor and a coach, observing that fighters today get into MMA to become famous. He gives a word of caution for those who see entering the cage as a way to add more social media followers or become a celebrity. Swanson warns that MMA is too dangerous to get into for the “wrong reasons,” before adding that the sport can change your life if you’re properly dedicated.
“I want to be known for my creativeness, my passion, and my ability to always bounce back from a tough situation”
As a fighter synonymous with high profile organizations, Swanson uses social media as a way to tell his story from his own perspective. That narrative control contrasts the buildup to fights in which the media and promotions push stories focused on selling tickets and PPVs. Social media also gives Swanson a platform to connect with fans on a consistent basis as opposed to only seeing him fight a couple times per year on TV.
Swanson also has a clear understanding of what he represents to the MMA audience. With his growth as an athlete and person, experiencing both wins and setbacks, he embodies the grind of a fighter’s journey to the top.
“I want my fans to feel like they are getting to know me as a person and not just a guy who fights on TV a couple times a year. I want people to feel my struggles and my accomplishments,” explains Swanson.
“I want to be an inspiration to people who are chasing a dream”
And even though MMA is an individual sport, Swanson gives credit to his team that molded him from both a personal and professional standpoint. Outside of his coaches, he mentions people working behind the scenes, including his manager Kami Safdari. He realizes how much Safdari, who worked with Swanson for 18 years before he passed away last December, impacted his career in and out of the cage, including teaching him about personal responsibility.
That development is an essential part of Swanson’s career arc as he views MMA as a vehicle for personal growth. In looking back at his career, he says it’s not necessarily the biggest fights that he considers the most memorable. He says that there’s an aspect to fight preparation that fans don’t see. Some of his biggest wins may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but he may have been dealing with something physical or mental behind the scenes.
“Every fight and every bump along the way makes you grow as a person if you allow it to,” adds Swanson.
One night does stick out in his mind for personal reasons. His fight against Doo Ho Choi at UFC 206 in 2016 was nominated as the Fight of the year by several media outlets. But Swanson also found out that he was going to be a father on the same night, combining the professional and personal highs.
“If you get into MMA for the right reasons, if could change your life - if you allow it to”
In addition to his own career, Swanson owns Tru MMA and co-owns a UFC gym. With an up-close view to the next generation of fighters, Swanson is optimistic over the future of the sport. He adds that we are still in the early stages of MMA, with future fighters able to study and build upon previous eras. Coaching also allows Swanson to pass down his legacy, something that he takes seriously as it lets him know he’s made an impact on the sport.
“I think about my legacy because I want to have made a difference in this sport,” says Swanson about his goal to inspire future fighters.
“I think the fighters of the future will blow us away. And I hope I’m someone they study as inspiration”
Swanson has a simple piece of advice for fighters eager to get into MMA: start now. There’ll always be excuses to put off pursuing your dreams for later, so create goals to hold yourself accountable. Seek out the best in training, whether in your coaches, training partners, or your gear. Here, Swanson appreciates the functionality of Virus apparel. Depending on the weather, his go-to outfit changes between compression fit shorts or Stay Warm pants, along with a tee or a tank (plus, he uses training as an excuse to showcase loud colors).
And once you have those things taken care of, study fighters who came before, like Swanson.
But first, Swanson has his own upcoming fight to take care of. Despite entering his 17th year as a professional fighter, he remains as motivated and driven as ever - driven to improve, to compete, to continue to grow through MMA and add to his legacy. Every fight represents an opportunity to inspire his fans to keep chasing a dream. Swanson might be optimistic over the future of the sport, but his time is still very much now.