Tuesday, July 2, 2013 | 7:15 p.m.
The worst pain Cub Swanson felt in his professional fighting career came after he busted nearly every bone in his face.
Swanson could deal with the broken jaw, nose, cheekbone and orbital bone. He said he arrived at the hospital “kind of cheery” for the surgery following the freak training accident.
Then he saw something that hurt him more than the knee that had re-arranged his exterior. His birth mother and adopted mother, both of whom raised Swanson at different times of his life, were in the waiting room bawling.
Worried about her son’s health and bewildered by his temperament, Swanson remembers his birth mother “flipping out.”
“What is wrong with you,” Swanson remembers her asking. “Do you think this is normal? You’re in the hospital about to get facial surgery.”
Swanson’s heart sank. Through seven years in mixed martial arts, he had never realized the toll his profession took on those around him.
“It was tough to see my mom cry,” the 29-year old Swanson confided. “It never hit home that it affected people, my family, so much. It made me question whether it was all worth it.”
He had plenty of time to come up with the answer. Training was out of the question for several weeks after the operations.
Heck, doctors wouldn’t even permit him to eat solid food for two months.
“I had to ask myself if I was OK with what I accomplished so far,” Swanson said. “It came to me pretty quick that I wasn’t, that I hadn’t lived up to my potential.”
Swanson describes returning smarter and hungrier, a claim the results validate. He dropped his first fight back, getting submitted by Ricardo Lamas in the first round at UFC on Fox 1, but has won four in a row since.
Ranked No. 5 in the division, Swanson (19-5 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is extremely close to a featherweight title shot heading into a matchup against Dennis Siver (21-8 MMA, 11-5 UFC) Saturday on the main card of UFC 162.
“He’s looked great,” UFC President Dana White said. “We’ll have to find out: He’s got to beat the No. 1 contender, and then get that shot.”
A part of Swanson believes the UFC is denying him that opportunity, though. He initially resisted a booking against the sixth-ranked Siver.
When UFC matchmakers explained that the 145-pound fighters ahead of him — champion Jose Aldo, Anthony Pettis, “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas — were already booked, he caved.
“I agreed to the fight but said, ‘if Aldo, Zombie, Pettis or Lamas get hurt, can I please move up?’ They kind of said, ‘we’ll see.’ But that was my intention,” Swanson said.
A knee injury, of course, forced Pettis out of his UFC 163 title shot against Aldo. Swanson was left waiting for a replacement call that never came.
The UFC slotted Jung in against Aldo — leaving Lamas without a fight all together — much to the chagrin of Swanson.
“He hasn’t faced any of the competition that Lamas or I has,” Swanson said of The Korean Zombie. “He’s up there, but I don’t even think he’s top five.”
Some see Swanson as a long shot to ever get another bout against Aldo after he lost by knockout in eight seconds when they met in the WEC four years ago. What Swanson thinks people forget is that his only losses in the last five years were to Aldo, Chad Mendes and Lamas — the top three-ranked featherweights in the world.
Knowing he’s beaten everyone except the absolute best is a consolation to Swanson.
“Especially because those were my off-days,” Swanson said. “Those were when I was coming in off of a win and got over-aggressive. I feel like I beat myself in all of those fights.”
He reviewed the Aldo and Lamas defeats while in recovery from surgery. Swanson began dreaming up things he could have done differently not only in the fights, but also in his preparation.
Some of those thoughts were what pushed him towards giving fighting another run.
“I knew I had a life after fighting,” he explained. “I know I’m going to be getting into bed with my jaw wired, on pain medications and stuff like that. But that just got me to thinking about how much I wanted to achieve.”
His mothers were understanding about his decision. Not that they really had a choice.
“They know I’m hard-headed and have to learn things the hard way sometimes,” Swanson said. “All they can do is support me because they know if they tell me I shouldn’t do something, I’m probably going to do it anyway. Luckily they’ve had my back but obviously they were worried. I think it’s satisfying for them to see me succeed right now.”