I started this series at the beginning of the year based on the idea of taking things back to a place where most people readily identify learning about fighting or how to throw hands themselves: high school.
Granted, there are some who are from tougher parts of the world that were introduced to the ruckus at a much earlier age, but in a broad stroke effort to include everyone, I went with high school as a common ground.
When we watch fights—including high-caliber athletes doing their job inside of a cage—it draws a connection to what we know in our individual lives. Debates over who beats whom and which fighter would come out on top are hypothetical questions we've dealt with since our educational days. Maybe it's an Alpha-male thing. Maybe it's not.
The first segment revolved around two people who genuinely seemed to dislike each other, and the tension built until finally they settled their differences with fisticuffs. In the case of Anthony Pettis versus Donald Cerrone, it was a brutal liver kick which sealed the deal in Chicago at UFC on Fox 6, and the chatter as to who was the badder man was ultimately determined, with Pettis coming away the decisive winner.
This installment deals with a different type of scrap.
To my knowledge there is no personal contempt building between Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier. Other than the fact they are going to throw down this weekend in London, both appear to have a healthy respect for one another, at least in the realm of public media.
That being said, the idea of two of the UFC's top featherweights getting down to business draws back to a different time. One where you sat around with your friends and wondered what would happen if the toughest guy from your school locked up with the kid from across town who has built a reputation for settling fools.
Again, maybe I'm alone in these thoughts, but I don't think that is the case. I believe what attracts us to great fights is watching two participants with reputation and potential, figuring out who is the better man in a flurry of punches, elbows, and knees. Both Swanson and Poirier have a proven track record of getting right to it when the cage door closes and their dust-up this weekend in London has the potential to be one of the year's best.
Swanson Transforms into Killer Cub
Being the longest tenured featherweight on the WEC/UFC roster has allowed us to watch the evolution of Cub Swanson. It is a journey that has come with highs and lows, as the Palm Springs native has battled to deliver on the potential and expectation set before him.
Over the past five years, the 29-year-old has struggled to gain steady traction in the featherweight ranks but his run in 2012 changed that picture dynamically. With knockout victories over George Roop, Ross Pearson, and Charles Oliveira, the Jackson's/Winkeljohn's-trained fighter made a serious statement to the rest of the featherweight division.
It is cliche to say things are finally firing on all cylinders for Swanson but that doesn't make it any less true. The proud Southern Californian is operating at a new level of confidence inside the Octagon and this makes him extremely dangerous to the opposition. Swanson has always possessed power and accuracy in his stand up game, but with an elevated confidence and a love for the scrap, he is opening up his skill set and showcasing his talent on a different level.
For a kid who constantly found himself in trouble as a youth, fighting is second nature to Swanson. In a past interview with Bleacher Report, Swanson described the difficulties of coming from home schooling and trying to fit into the hectic realm of the public system. The result was a kid who was determined to prove he was tougher than the meanest kid in your crew. While hardships are a difficult thing to celebrate, the process has made Swanson a fighter through and through.
From the Bayou to the Big Stage, Poirier Ready to Shine
Dustin Poirier knows what it is like to carry the weight of potential into the cage. Since his days on the regional MMA scene in Louisiana (captured on the Fightville documentary) to his battles on the sport's biggest stage, "The Diamond" has shown the type of heart and skill that has him on the cusp of being one of the next big things in MMA.
There have been setbacks along the way, but every time Poirier is forced back, he pushes forward with tremendous determination. The 24-year-old lost to Danny Castillo in his WEC debut back in 2010 then went on to claim victory in his next five outings, two of which came under the UFC banner.
Poirier's success put him on the doorstep of a potential title shot but after suffering a submission defeat to Chan Sung Jung at UFC on Fuel TV 3, the possibility of being shuffled back into the deck came front and center.
Determined not to let that happen, Poirier bounced back and earned an impressive first-round submission victory over former TUF winner Jonathan Brookins in December. The victory re-energized Poirier's run, and when Dennis Siver pulled out of his scheduled bout with Swanson due to injury, the American Top Team fighter saw the perfect opportunity and stepped up.
While Swanson may be heralded for his knockout power, Poirier has a diverse skill set of his own. The Louisiana-native has displayed a slick submission game in past outings and blended with his striking skills, is one of the most well-rounded fighters currently competing at 145 pounds.
There is also no lack of heart where Poirier is concerned. He possesses a natural toughness that is difficult to find in most competitors and that very attribute will certainly be tested against Swanson.
Title Shot: Someone Has to Go
The idea of watching Swanson and Poirier battle it out in London is exciting enough by itself, but when you include the heated race to stay in title contention in the 145-pound ranks, the matchup becomes much more intense.
With Anthony Pettis dropping down to face Jose Aldo in August, the avenues leading to a title shot are narrowing. Contenders Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas are both slated to return to action in the coming months, which makes this bout all the more important. The winner will stay in the conversation of title contention and the loser will find himself on the outside looking in for the time being.
The stakes are high going into Saturday's showdown at Wembley Arena. When you have two fighters with tremendous killer instincts and a hunger for UFC gold locking up, the result should be nothing short of explosive.