Cub Swanson's name at the top of the Fight Pass preliminary card was a welcome sight for fans last Saturday, and the bout that played out between the Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter and Tatsuya Kawajiri was endlessly entertaining.
The Japanese veteran looked to stifle the daunting striking flurries of Swanson with his resilient wrestling game. Swanson delivered some devastating shots to Kawajiri, but his durability was outstanding. He'd eat a big right hand and instead of getting buckled, he would launch himself into an outrageous spinning back fist, but more often than not, he would just glue himself to the hips of Swanson and eventually take him down to the canvas.
Swanson was never disheartened, though. The American came out at the beginning of each round and tried to take his counterpart's head off. Kawajiri gave as good as he got too, snapping Swanson's head back on a number of occasions.
When it came time to read out the winner of the bout, although the crowd was clearly behind Swanson, it was hard to tell how the judges had scored the bout due to Kawajiri's endless flood of takedowns, broken up by heavy blows from Swanson.
Bruce Buffer eventually relayed that it was Swanson who got the nod, to the delight of the Salt Lake City crowd, and the win over a fellow top-tier featherweight will do wonders for the confidence of 'Killer Cub'. His second win since his title aspiring six-fight win streak was shattered by losses to Frankie Edgar and Max Holloway, his previous notions of retirement will be put to the back of his mind.
You only have to look at the top of Saturday night's UFC offering from Salt Lake City to understand how exciting the featherweight division is at present. The spinning grace of Yair Rodriguez and similarly unorthodox, yet completely different, style of Alex Caceres was a joy to behold (well, at least for a couple of rounds).
It's neither Rodriguez nor Caceres that I want Swanson to see pitted against next, though. There is another young gun that has become one of the most talked about members of the UFC featherweight division's new generation. He has been calling out Swanson ever since his Octagon debut, which resulted in a first round knockout back in November 2014, and since then, he has banked two more first round knockouts to grab the attention of international audiences.
'The Korean Superboy'
Now that Swanson has his winning trajectory re-established, it seems like the perfect time for him to test the guile of the Korean 25-year-old. Both men like to go about their business on their feet, and with Choi carrying the 'touch of death' in his straight right (just asked Juan Puig, Sam Sicilia, and Thiago Tavares), it makes for a mouth-watering matchup.
Swanson is the perfect litmus test for the knockout artist. A win over Swanson would surely be the biggest of his career, and the American seems like a good way to introduce 'The Korean Superboy' to the challenges that exist at the top of the division.
'Killer Cub' has taken on every challenge that the top of the bracket has to offer, with the exceptions being Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor. Currently ranked fifth, Swanson would probably prefer to continue to rebuild his championship momentum against fighters in the lower portions of the rankings. Surely, given his experience and unorthodox style, Swanson would be confident going in against Choi.
It's not all one-way traffic, of course. Choi is fast becoming one of the most talked about up-and-coming fighters at 145 lbs. Speaking of Swanson's confidence, it isn't exactly a field that Choi is lacking in either. His frequent call-outs of Swanson since arriving in the UFC as a relative unknown have proven that.
Following his win over Thiago Tavares last month, Choi told MMAnytt.se that Swanson is still the man that he wants more than any other opponent at the moment.
"In the post-fight interview I mentioned that I wanted to fight Cub Swanson," said Choi through a translator. "I want to show the fans that Asians can be strong and can perform just as well as any fighters."
"I know Cub would like to fight on the feet. He would like it to be a standup war. If he wants to fight on the feet I'll fight him on my feet. If he wants to have a wrestling match, I'm ready for a wrestling match as well."
Although anyone who has seen Choi fight would not argue against the strength of Asian fighters, a win over Swanson would be a fantastic platform to get the word out on the Korean.
Based on his first three UFC outings, it seems that emergence in the featherweight title conversation will be sooner rather than later, but a test from one of the top tier fighters in the division is needed to see if he is ready for higher echelons of the bracket.