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To give Conor McGregor a title shot is to flip a joyous bird at Cub Swanson

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

By saying that the UFC is justified in giving Irishman Conor McGregor the next available shot at the featherweight belt, we’re of course saying that Cub Swanson is a pound of green chopped liver.

Why? Because bro, I don’t even…I can’t even…if you look at…if he beats Frankie Edgar?...I mean…come on!

Well, hell, let’s look. Swanson fought Jose Aldo in June 2009. It wasn’t even a title fight; it was a title-eliminator. In was in the deep blue WEC. It was back when Swanson was just 25 years old, and still putting the pieces together, and Aldo was already a fully-blossomed warpath on legs. Aldo needed just eight seconds to finish Swanson. And it’s become the most haunted "got caught" scenario in recorded history.

Apparently, #FlyingKneesAre4Eva.

Aldo won the title against Mike Brown five months later. He defended the belt for the first time five months after that at WEC 48 against Urijah Faber. Then again against Manny Gamburyan on Sept. 30, 2010, at WEC 51 in the high-altitude of Broomfield, Colorado.

That Gamburyan title defense was two months before McGregor lost to Joseph Duffy in 38 seconds in Cage Warriors a million miles from the Octagon It was before the Guinness Storehouse opened its doors, and the Ring of Kerry was formed, before the puffins found their way to the coasts of Dun Laoghaire, before Waterford dealt in crystal and the erection of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and James Joyce penned Finnegans Wake.

This gives you an idea how long ago Swanson’s bout with Aldo was. As the expression goes, McGregor was still "sh---ing green" when Swanson re-began his march to title contention.

But seriously, what the hell?

Cub Swanson had his shot at Aldo at WEC 41, Faber has had four title shots and a title eliminator of his own. Swanson? Well, as he gets set to try and get his seventh straight victory against Edgar on Nov. 22, he is reminded this week by UFC president Dana White that he already had his shot at Aldo and that McGregor -- fresh off an eye-opening victory over Dustin Poirier (whom Swanson took care of a couple of casualties ago) -- hasn’t.

This is a pretty black-and-white way of looking at things. It’s a simplified way of saying "la la la la" with your fingers in your ears.

The problem is, of course, that Swanson’s shot at Aldo is not the same as his shot at a title. He has never had at the title. The shot at the title is the concrete objective here, not the more abstract rematch with Aldo. Swanson is (presumably) in this game for the glory of the gold accessory, not personal vindication.

If Swanson goes to Austin  and defeats the former lightweight champion Edgar -- the Frankie Edgar, the one who White himself defended as the best pound-for-pound fighter going not so very long ago -- it makes zero sense for him to be back-seated to McGregor. Zero. Sense. It makes less that zero sense given that Swanson isn’t, say, Jon Fitch. Swanson has been involved in a string of fight of the nights and is always in it for thrill-seeking kicks. He’s the UFC’s archetype of a headhunter who shows up to finish fools.

So I repeat, what in the actual hell?

Here’s the thing. I’m here to tell you, all of the above mentioned is just so much bullocks. The old meritocracy means nothing when a fighter breathes life into the thing again. You know it, I know it, everyone here knows it. Conor McGregor, gorblimey!, is the savior of 2014. He’s the star that gets expedited postage to the top. Swanson, as good as he is, belongs merely to the usual rotisserie of contenders. He’s the great familiar, while McGregor is the one to make the featherweight division vital.

Is it fair? A lot isn’t in the prizecage -- the fight game is cruel in more ways than one. It is cruel to delegate interest, and to assign value through channels of arcana and charisma, to play up popularity, to crave new blood, to cater to those who cast the longest shadows.

McGregor is a firebrand carrying a country on his back and a larger parcel of Irish expats in his hands.

It’s not hard to understand. The UFC is flying McGregor down to Brazil to sit cageside for Chad Mendes and Aldo at UFC 179 because he is the division’s first real hysteria. They are expediting McGregor into a title shot because he makes the prospect of an ordinary title fight seem impossible. Aldo, for sublime as he is, hasn’t been a blockbuster champion. In some ways, McGregor’s slingshot up the ranks has less to do with Swanson than it does Aldo himself. Aldo has faced and beaten the pantheon of featherweights. Even his rematch with Mendes never heats past a low blue flame.

But Aldo against McGregor? And Swanson against McGregor, or Edgar against McGregor? Why, suddenly there is intrigue for days. Same with Nik Lentz against McGregor, or the Korean Zombie against McGregor, or Chad Mendes, or all comers against McGregor.

McGregor is far more than just a usual challenge for the featherweight title; he is a chance to take an off-Broadway production into the limelight. The fight game lays in wait for stars like him to emerge. When they do, all the sense-making we do in ordinary circumstances feels so…ordinary. Big fights are the thing.

McGregor makes for big fights. And for guys like Swanson, who has more than earned his way, it’s a bummer. But it’s a bummer with potential upside. A rematch with Aldo for the title would be big for him, while a title fight against McGregor would be big for everyone.

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