At 38 years old, Cub “Killer” Swanson is making the high-risk, high-reward decision to drop down to bantamweight. Not only is the additional weight cut a possible obstacle for the veteran to overcome, Swanson is joining the deepest and most competitive division on the roster. With a 28-12 professional record that includes many of the best to ever fight, Swanson has earned the benefit of the doubt that this move is strategic and not reactionary.t
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Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira is tonight! Watch every UFC 281 fight here.
- Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
- Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
- Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Regardless of the rationale, Jonathan “Dragon” Martinez will look to spoil Swanson’s entrance into the division. Only 28 years old, Martinez has already racked up a 7-3 UFC record and has won three in a row by decision ahead of Saturday night.
Martinez opened as a slight favorite and has grown, most notably at the beginning of the week, to a larger than 2:1 favorite.
Martinez is a lengthy fighter with springy reflexes, quick combinations, and the ability to kick like thunder. As he’s cut his teeth in the UFC, Martinez has proven that his kicking game as devastating as it is impressive. Whether he’s chopping an opponent’s leg, cracking their ribs, or precisely snapping his foot to the temple, Martinez rarely telegraphs his shots and nearly always lands with emphasis. Standing at range with the southpaw is a poor decision. Martinez is happy to move laterally along the outside of the black line in the cage, strike enough with his hands to create an opening, and take apart his opponent with his left leg. Martinez fights with consistent volume, power, and a newfound precision that only amplifies his attacks’ effectiveness. Defensively, though, Martinez has struggled. Specifically, Martinez struggles against pressure fighters who are able to crash distance, trap him against the cage, and take away Martinez’s kicking game and movement. When forced to box while stationary and in too close of proximity to kick, Martinez tends to shell up and absorb combinations. His high guard and reflexes often allow him to survive in these exchanges but as they happen more in the fight, Martinez has taken the risk of dropping his hands to try and counter. In these moments, Martinez can be clipped and dropped. Martinez’s defensive grappling is similar to his striking defense- against persistent attacks, he can survive but rarely can he successfully counter position. Despite a path to victory for his opponents, pressure, Martinez has continued to find success in his quick and powerful range striking. An opponent has to survive Martinez’s range attacks if they want to get in tight. Easier said than done.
Swanson is one of the few old-guard fighters who still revert back to old-school UFC when that style of fight, bite down on the mouthpiece and swing, is a viable path to victory. What makes Swanson so unique, and why he’s still a tough fight at 38 years old is that he’s continued to add layers to his game. “Swang and bang” fights are likely his best path to victory as Swanson has high-level power, presumably even more pronounced in a smaller weight class, and a stone jaw that can still take a clean shot. The primarily effective additional layer that Swanson has added to his game is clinch wrestling. “Killer” has always been a pressure forward fighter who can win in a brawl. But, with his newfound willingness to clinch after a heavy exchange, Swanson has proven an ability to win important seconds or even minutes at the end of rounds, often tipping an even round in his favor. With this new layer, Swanson’s typical game plan is to box at range, crash distance and push his opponent back to the cage with a heavy combination, then clinch wrestle. This method has resulted in several rounds and fights won. However, Swanson has struggled during the transition periods of fights, even when he’s implementing his game plan. At range, before the inevitable combination rush forward, Swanson has regularly been pieced up by leg and body kicks, hurting him early and taking away his base and cardio. Further, after the clinch separates, Swanson has been slower to react, often getting caught cleanly on the break. His toughness and durability have helped him survive these transitional exchanges; but, moving down a weight class creates questions around that durability. He’ll either need to avoid kicks at range or prove Father Time wrong by being able to still absorb them and pressure forward.
In a fight where both men possess the skillset necessary to exploit their opponent’s weakness, I side with the underdog and fighter with more experience in implementing winning game plans. Martinez could kick Swanson into another dimension but I like Swanson to crash distance early and clinch late in rounds to nullify Martinez’s kicking game and movement. So long as Swanson doesn’t look awful on the scales, give me the underdog veteran to win with pressure and experience.
Pick: Swanson to win (+180 underdog at BetUS)
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.