Having just lost one year of his fighting career to injury, Cub Swanson is keeping sight of the big picture.
Swanson, 37, picked up a much-needed win in October of last year, outpointing the previously unbeaten Kron Gracie to halt a career-worst four-fight skid. He was unable to capitalize on the victory, however, as two months later he would suffer a knee injury that would require surgery and keep him on the shelf for almost all of 2020.
Back in fighting shape, Swanson has stopped to consider what his accumulation of injuries and wear and tear could mean for him in the future.
“I wonder that,” Swanson said when asked about his injuries at UFC 256 virtual media day on Thursday. “Especially with having kids, I just hope that I’m able to have health insurance all the way through and get the things I need to get done. I realize that I put my body through a lot, but I’ve always thought at the same time if I was a plumber or any kind of worker in that industry, which a lot of people that I grew up with are, I would imagine that their bodies feel the same, their backs are wrecked.
“But they were just being a lot more unhealthy with their eating, so I think I’ve abused my joints and things like that, but I’ve been eating healthy and not doing drugs for so long that I feel like I’ve treated my body good in that sense. It’s on my mind here and there, but I think as long as I stay in shape and do all the things necessary to clean up my joints and do all that kind of stuff, then I’ll be fine.”
While the UFC typically foots the bill when its contracted athletes suffer injuries in training or in the octagon, when it comes time for fighters to part ways with the promotion or retire, it’s much more unclear what kind of support they get from their former employer.
Swanson is looking forward to the day when fighters do receive some form of long-term health insurance, but he understands that it’s not those putting in the effort to make it happen that will necessarily benefit from it.
“I definitely do, but that’s not my call,” Swanson said. “I definitely think that a lot of these fighters should be taken care of long-term. But I feel like we’re in that kind of situation where it’s, like, the early NFL players. We’re the ones that kind of set the standard, and then the next generation are probably going to get all the benefits from us growing the sport.
“But I also can’t try to rip on them in any way, because they’ve blessed me with the opportunity to have a great life, and when I did injure this knee that I was insured through the grappling tournament. The UFC was like, ‘No, we’re gonna handle it,’ and they took over and they made sure I got to see the right surgeon and they were on top of it, paid for everything. They do a good job with things like that. As far as making sure we’re taken care of long-term, hopefully that happens in the future.”
Even with the UFC having his back, Swanson’s had to work as hard as ever to get his body back on track. The COVID-19 pandemic made training even more convenient, but he found a way to juggle that along with his responsibilities as a dad.
“It was tough,” Swanson said. “I pretty much was doing physical therapy three times a week and then regular strength training twice a week because I didn’t want to lose mobility in my shoulders and definition in other places, so basically me and my wife we lost our babysitter with the lockdowns and everything – we were trading off. I would work out all morning and then be with the kids at night, and then she would go to work. That was our schedule, and I was doing five days a week and I pretty much maintained that all year.
“Even with the quarantine, when that happened, I was able to continue to work out because it was essential – I just had to do it with a mask on, which wasn’t easy. Sometimes doing two, two-and-a-half hour workouts with the mask on, so I didn’t get why people were complaining about it. It was difficult, but I got through and I’m here and I’m ready.”
Swanson has been a fan favorite since his days with the WEC, but never quite broken through to title contention. He’s been in the cage with the best of the best, falling short to world champions like Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo, and Max Holloway.
He’s aware of how difficult it is to break through into the upper echelon of MMA, and it’s a struggle that he long ago learned to embrace.
“I think about it sometimes,” Swanson said. “I don’t really think I have bad luck. I think that one thing that I’ve prided myself on is that tough situations make for tougher people and that was one of my goals as well getting into this sport, I wanted to be a tougher human.
“I wanted to be a tougher man and basically when I had kids I’d be able to be like a superhero to them, and I feel like I’m accomplishing that. All these tough times that I’ve had in my career, I’ve just been able to prove that I can persevere and to me that means everything.”