(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
Cub Swanson fancies himself the world’s biggest wuss. It’s a point of pride for the 29-year-old UFC featherweight from Palm Springs, Calif.
Swanson’s job might be to beat and choke foes into submission, but that’s a risk he has learned to mitigate over years of training and injuries that benched him at critical times in his MMA career.
Risking his life through sanctioned violence is a reality he has embraced over nine years in the cage. It’s the unsanctioned kind he seeks to avoid.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot more lately, just because of how many times as a youth you cheat death,” Swanson (19-5 MMA, 4-1 UFC), who meets fellow contender Dennis Siver (21-8 MMA, 10-5 UFC) at UFC 162 in Las Vegas on Saturday, told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I feel terrible for what I put my mom through, thinking I was a man and all the stupid decisions I used to make.”
Losing his father to cancer at 3 months old, Swanson and his brothers were shuttled to extended family and foster parents when his mother became addicted to drugs, he said. His father’s cousin raised him in a strict household, taking him to church four times a week. But by the time he was in high school and his mom had gotten sober and retaken custody, Swanson wanted to rebel.
And so the self-described obsessive extremist undid his sheltered life, delving deeply into marijuana, cocaine and alcohol. He survived several shootings, including one in which two men stuck guns over a fence at a party and shot six people.
Then there was the time he and his brother got into a 1967 Mustang with no seat belts — and a driver who was high. Doing 75 mph on a residential street, the intoxicated man drifted onto the center median and rolled the car a half-dozen times.
“At one point, my head and my arm were touching the dirt and pushed me back into the car,” Swanson said. “My brother was in the front seat. The whole side of his roof caved in, and if he would have been in his seat belt, he probably would have gotten his head crushed.
“We just walked away from that laughing, like, ‘Wow, that was crazy.’”
Swanson’s behavior eventually put him in juvenile hall. As reflective as he was impulsive, he decided to find another obsession. That’s when he found jiu-jitsu and later MMA.
Although very successful early in his career, he suffered several broken hands and other injuries in the World Extreme Cagefighting promotion, which eventually was folded into the UFC. His 2011 UFC debut was delayed by a training accident that left him with multiple facial fractures.
But after a debut loss to current contender Ricardo Lamas, Swanson has amassed four UFC wins in a row. His freewheeling style twice has earned him “Fight of the Night” bonuses, and with a win against Siver, he could be up for a title shot.
“I know I could be one win (away),” he said. “But the thing is, I’m just enjoying it.”
Splitting time between Indio, Calif., and Albuquerque, where he trains at the Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA gym, Swanson keeps it simple. He drives an old Nissan 350Z with broken air conditioning.
He spends time coaching up-and-comers at a gym he started in Indio. He sometimes speaks about his past at a local school and at the juvenile hall that once held him.
When he seeks thrills these days, he goes deep-sea fishing or camping.
“Everybody knows what I’m about now,” he said. “All the guys I looked up to as a kid now look up to me.”
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