Cub Swanson dreamed of playing in World Cup before UFC career

Cub Swanson soaks in the fans' reaction during open workouts in San Antonio on Thursday.

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SAN ANTONIO — The first thing Cub Swanson asked the fans before his open workout Thursday had nothing to do with his forthcoming fight against Jeremy Stephens. He wanted to know whether the dozens gathered inside the Grand Hyatt ballroom had watched the U.S. men’s soccer team compete against Germany in the World Cup earlier in the afternoon.

Long before Swanson became a top contending UFC fighter, he was a soccer star with designs on making a living playing professionally and earning a spot on the national team.

"I really thought that I could do it and I knew with my work ethic I could do it and probably still could if I really tried, on the lower level at least," Swanson told FOX Sports. "Life has a way of changing things and you got to roll with it."

Swanson played soccer from the age of 4 until he was a 19-year-old in junior college. At that point, he quit the game, because he needed a job so he could pay bills. Never much of a student, the Palm Springs native wouldn’t have been eligible the following semester anyway.

He has no regrets. Soon after he quit soccer, he began training in martial arts and fell in love with that. Swanson remains a huge fan of the sport, though. He has followed the World Cup religiously, pulling for Team USA. Germany beat the United States, 1-0, on Thursday in Brazil, but the U.S. still advanced out of the group stage and will meet Belgium on Tuesday.

"I want them to go all the way," Swanson said. "The people need to see a strong team and I’m very hopeful for that."

Swanson has considerably better odds of beating Stephens at UFC Fight Night on Saturday here at AT&T Center (FOX Sports 1, 10 p.m.) than the United States does of winning the World Cup. Swanson could earn a featherweight title shot if he does so.

Win or lose, you better believe Swanson will be back in front of the TV watching the first sport he fell in love with. The Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA product doesn’t know who will win and that’s the beauty of it.

"I’m watching as much as I can," Swanson said. … "It’s exciting to see."