In a stacked class like Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight division, it's hard to believe there's still a champion who has already beaten most of the top competition. That man, Jose Aldo, made his mark in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) before coming over to UFC, where he has defended his 145-pound crown an impressive six times.
Another big rematch that looms for the Brazilian is one with Cub Swanson, who headlines UFC Fight Night 44 tonight (June 28, 2014) against Jeremy Stephens from AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. To find their first bout, you have to go back to June 2009, when WEC was on its rise and Aldo was still a yet unproven fighter.
Swanson, who was already an established fighter in WEC, would definitely be Aldo's toughest opponent to date, but that had little impact on the result.
The fight began, and within eight seconds, it was over, as Swanson succumbed to a swift, vicious flying knee followed by punches for a technical knockout stoppage. This is the fight where Aldo really made a name for himself and proved just how vicious he can be. Swanson was a very good fighter at that point, don't get me wrong, but he was plagued by inconsistency and shoddy defending that made him a fairly flawed fighter.
Fast-forward five years, and now Swanson is far and away a much better mixed martial artist. Although he has suffered losses to Ricardo Lamas and the aforementioned Mendes, the SoCal native has learned much since fighting Aldo, continuing to impress with his improvements from fight to fight.
Recently, he has gone on a tear, with a five-fight win streak in which he has finished all but one opponent, the very resilient Dustin Poirier. Indeed, Swanson may very well be at his career peak.
It's no secret that Swanson would like to get another crack at Aldo, and with his current win streak in mind, it's hard to imagine he won't get it if he defeats Stephens in their FOX Sports 1 main event fight later this evening. Stephens, while not an established commodity at Featherweight, has built up a three-fight win streak of his own and has a big enough name where he would be an impressive fighter to mark down as Swanson's sixth straight scalp.
To add to his chances of a title shot from this fight, he'll have to win this fight impressively. Stephens is tough and has a ton of power, but is not much more than a "technical brawler." Swanson was exactly the same for some time, but his overall game has developed to a point where he is incredibly slick, confident and unpredictable in all exchanges, which should make for a very rough night for his opponent.
If Swanson finishes and/or dominates Stephens, his claim to a title shot will be unrivaled by any fighter at the top of the division; in fact, he could be looking at a rematch with Aldo -- or even Mendes -- should he come out the unlikely victor at UFC 176.
All in all, Swanson has everything to gain from an impressive performance in his fight with Stephens. And at this point, it's hard to not see him take advantage of this critical situation. Swanson has built himself into a new, polished fighter, and will showcase all of his talent in this bout.
If he does reign victorious, he would be a very interesting -- and worthy -- title challenger, especially if he gets his rematch with "Scarface."