Artem Lobov might not have won the fight or the war tonight (April 22) in Nashville, but, in taking Cub Swanson the distance and sticking with him every step of the way, he proved the naysayers wrong and won a battle of sorts.
Unranked going into the five-round main event, Lobov was expected to be no match for Swanson; indeed, many questioned why Swanson, ranked fourth at featherweight, had decided to take the fight in the first place. Yet, though the scorecards suggested a one-sided fight (49-46, 49-46, 50-45), Lobov pushed Swanson all the way to the line and saw his stock rise in the process.
The Russian’s intentions were clear from the get-go. He took the centre of the Octagon, measured Swanson with his southpaw left hand and let it go whenever he felt in range. Swanson, meanwhile, struggled to get to grips with Lobov’s upright striking style in the early going and appeared content to circle, find his rhythm and bide his time.
This time and space allowed Lobov to establish himself in the contest. He grew in confidence. He considered his options. He also opened up with some aggressive left leg-kicks which reddened the legs of Swanson and kept the normally relentless American in his box.
Lobov wasn’t just striking, either. He took Swanson down in round one and, though unable to progress any further than that, it was a sign yet again that the underdog was not only capable but a much better test for Swanson than many anticipated.
It’s likely Swanson sensed this as well. By the end of round one he had switched it up, was pressing more, and seemed to realise success would come from pushing Lobov back and taking away his leg kicks and left cross. When he did this, when he had Lobov on the retreat, the complexion of the fight changed.
Round two was a better one for Swanson for this very reason. He continued his pursuit of Lobov, regained the centre of the Octagon, and had the Russian unsteady following a left hook.
This led to some clinch-work between the pair as they stayed close to one another and compared knees. Lobov then looked for a second takedown, but Swanson wasn’t having any of it. He shook off the attempt and got back to working Lobov over. More knees followed, accompanied by short elbows, after which Swanson surprised Lobov by taking him down with a trip. From there he ended up in half guard and found success with some more elbows, before eventually winding up in mount and taking Lobov’s back.
The situation appeared grave for Lobov at this point as he attempted to fend off Swanson’s choke attempt. But he stuck in there, wriggled free and ended the round on his feet again trading hurtful-looking punches with Swanson.
Momentum had now shifted, though, and Swanson relished the kind of fight Lobov was giving him. This was fun to him, his face and his smile seemed to say. He’d exchange blows with Lobov and then stand still and grin at his opponent, stopping just short of licking his lips. It was heating up. Just the way Swanson liked it.
He stayed on the front foot for much of round three, landing big shots with his left and right hands, as well as an eye-catching wheel-kick, and managed to bloody his opponent’s left eye. This was cause for concern for referee Herb Dean, who stopped the action and summoned a doctor to check out the severity of the wound, but there was never any doubt Lobov would continue. He was in the fight. He was making a name for himself.
Alas, the fight continued and Swanson’s better variety remained the key difference between the two; where Lobov had only a straight and sharp left hand to his name, Swanson carried a full arsenal and an unpredictability that made him incredibly hard to read.
Swanson, 33, stayed one step ahead in round four, winning most of the sloppy exchanges short on technique but high on drama, and impressively breaking free from a clinch with a spinning back fist at one stage. He was also in the ascendency in the fifth and final round, when a left head kick landed on Lobov and a judo throw takedown slammed Lobov on the deck, allowing Swanson to scamper into full mount and once again land punches from the back.
Lobov, 13-13-1, as was his custom, bravely fought off a submission attempt and was quick to get to his feet. The pair then traded on the buzzer. Too little, too late for Lobov, he nevertheless finished the fight the way he deserved to finish it – on his feet, scrapping – and, in doing so, shocked scores of doubters around the world.
“This is my 21st fight between UFC and WEC, so I’m running out of opponents,” said Swanson, 25-7.
“I’ve got to fight guys like this that are willing to call me out and test themselves. I’m in a position now where I’m a veteran, so I have to fight these guys. I knew he was going to step up to the plate and it was a hell of a fight.”
Cub Swanson defeated Artem Lobov via unanimous decision (49-46 x2, 50-45)
Al Iaquinta defeated Diego Sanchez via first-round KO (1:38)
Ovince Saint Preux defeated Marcos Rogerio de Lima via second-round submission (2:11)
John Dodson defeated Eddie Wineland via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27 x2)
Stevie Ray defeated Joe Lauzon via majority decision (28-27, 29-27, 28-28)
Mike Perry defeated Jake Ellenberger via second-round KO (1:05)
Thales Leites defeated Sam Alvey via unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
Brandon Moreno defeated Dustin Ortiz via second-round submission (4:06)
Scott Holtzman defeated Michael McBride via unanimous decision (30-27 x2, 30-26)
Danielle Taylor defeated Jessica Penne via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Alexis Davis defeated Cindy Dandois via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Bryan Barberena defeated Joe Proctor via first-round TKO (3:30)
Hector Sandoval defeated Matt Schnell via first-round TKO (4:24)