For the second time in a month — and only the second time in its 20-year history — the promotion put on two fight cards on the same day halfway around the world. On Saturday, the destinations were Auckland and San Antonio, with the first punch thrown at 2:30 a.m. ET in New Zealand and the final hand raised nearly 23 hours later in Texas.
Cub Swanson emerged victorious over Jeremy Stephens in San Antonio, which means that on a marathon day of 21 fights covering two continents, the UFC at least ended up with a championship challenger. Swanson’s unanimous-decision victory was his sixth straight and puts him in position to go for the featherweight belt the next time he steps in the octagon.
Swanson (21-5) has been aiming for this for five years, ever since José Aldo exploded out of his corner to start their 2009 WEC fight and, one flying knee later, won in eight seconds. Aldo went on to win that promotion’s 145-pound belt and then became UFC champ — a title he still possesses along with a six-fight win streak. The Brazilian will put it on the line Aug. 2 against Chad Mendes.
Should Mendes become champ, Swanson’s challenge would still be a rematch, as the two faced off in 2010. “Money” Mendes won via unanimous decision.
Swanson isn’t saying which loss he’s most driven to avenge. As a matter of fact, even though UFC president Dana White has said Swanson “probably” would get a title shot if he won, when the 30-year-old Greg Jackson protégé had the microphone during his postfight interview in the cage, he didn’t implore the boss to confirm his glorious future.
“I don’t beg,” said Swanson.
You might say he lets his fighting do the talking. In San Antonio, Swanson was in control from the start, but took some hard shots from Stephens (23-10) in the second round and had to shift the momentum back in his direction. He did that with constant motion, throwing punches and kicks from various angles and using feints to make Stephens react to attacks that weren’t even coming. But plenty, in fact, was coming, and Swanson had Stephens in trouble after connecting with a liver kick midway through the third. From there he stayed in control, but he didn’t coast. In the fifth round, ahead on the scorecards, Swanson didn’t dance. He stayed on the attack and dodged some desperate punches flung his way.
Two judges scored the fight 49-46 for Swanson, the third 48-47.
The UFC actually ended up with two featherweight contenders, as Ricardo Lamas — last seen failing to wrest the belt away from Aldo — defeated José’s training partner, Hacran Dias, at the Nova Uniao gym in Rio de Janeiro. The promotion also might have a welterweight contender on its hands, as Kelvin Gastelum (10-0) remained unbeaten with a unanimous decision over Nicholas Musoke. Why is Gastelum, the Season 17 winner of The Ultimate Fighter, only a "maybe" as a contender? Because, for the second fight in a row, he failed to make weight. The UFC doesn’t look kindly on that.
The promotion suffered a bigger black eye earlier in the evening when MMAfighting.com reported that Chael Sonnen failed a second drug test, with this one revealing four banned substances different from those found in his earlier test. This test, taken June 5, discovered human growth hormone (HGH), recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO), anastrozole and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Sonnen retired as a fighter following the first failed drug test, but he remains a prominent figure in the promotion because of his work on the Fox network’s UFC coverage, especially as co-host of UFC Tonight.