SAN ANTONIO — Cub Swanson asked coach Greg Jackson in his corner after the second round if he should turn things up.
"He said, ‘I’d like that,’" Swanson said.
Turn it up, he did. After getting dropped twice in the second, Swanson came back and swept the rest of the fight against Jeremy Stephens in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday at AT&T Center. Swanson ended up earning a unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 48-47) in a bout that made the crowd forget about a lackluster card up until that point. The victory could very well earn Swanson a rematch with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
"I won’t beg," Swanson said.
Swanson and Stephens stood and exchanged for most of five rounds. Stephens had his way early, landing hard right hands that jarred Swanson. Swanson’s output was greater, even early, but when Stephens hit him, the sound was audible. Damage was being inflicted.
Swanson turned things around in the third with a kick to the liver that nearly folded Stephens up. Swanson chased him down and nearly finished Stephens at that point, but never really followed up to the body. Stephens managed to survive the round, but looked a step slow from that point on.
Swanson was the faster, more accurate and more active striker over the last two rounds. He hurt Stephens against to the body in the fifth and flurried to the head and body with punches and kicks.
At the end of the fourth, Jackson had to tell Swanson where he was at.
"At the very end, I was like, ‘How many more rounds?’" Swanson said. "He said, ‘this is the last one.’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’"
With the crowd on its feet, the two exchanged punches to the bell in the fifth round. When it was done, Stephens raised Swanson’s hand and the two walked around the Octagon together celebrating an extremely entertaining fight. The two are not friends, but had very similar troubled upbringings and overcame a lot of adversity.
Swanson (21-5) should have a title shot coming up next. He lost to Aldo five years ago, but his entire game as evolved, especially his striking, since then. At 30, Swanson is in the prime of his career.
Stephens (23-10), who said he injured his left hand early in the fight, has nothing to be ashamed about coming away with a loss against the fourth-ranked featherweight contender. Stephens, who came in No. 11, should remain in the rankings and get another top 145-pounder next. He had won three in a row coming into Saturday night.