One sentence summary
Phil: Hahaha what?
David: It’s the main event we cede. Not the main event we preserve.
Record: Cub Swanson 24-7 Artem Lobov 13-12-1-(Draw)-1 (NC)
Odds: Cub Swanson -660 Artem Lobov +540
History / Introduction to both fighters
Phil: It seemed inevitable that Swanson was headed for a slide after that Holloway fight. That together with his match against Frankie Edgar made for consecutive brutal, one-sided ass-kickings. Edgar beat the crap out of him and then tapped him out with a neck crank. Holloway broke his jaw. The Dias and Kawajiri fights were encouraging baby steps on the way back- the kind of guys that Swanson probably should have beaten, but neither win was without incident. The Korean Superboy fight was to be a passing of the torch, then... but Swanson wasn't ready to go quiet into the twilight of his career just yet.
David: Swanson being brought back to life isn’t all that shocking to me. He’s one of those classic ‘not too soon for the prospect’ gatekeepers. His style is dangerous for any opponent, and though he has clear weaknesses, you have to wade through Cub’s unique foliage of fierce. Other than Superboy, I feel like he’s had relatively soft matchups (sorry Kawajiri, but PRIDE Bushido days these are not). Lucky for him, this is one of those matchups. Although as we'll discuss, it's at least more nuanced than that.
Phil: Lobov came into The Ultimate Fighter as "McGregor's Teammate", and if anything was going to reinvigorate interest in TUF, it was going to be Conor McGregor. He did not, and Lobov's season remains yet another grey smear of meaningless fights and pointless drama. As in most TUFs, the final ended up being a "dynamic KO artist" against a grappler. As in most TUFs, the grappler won, to widespread annoyance.
In general the UFC has done everything possible to grease the skids for McGregor's stumpy-armed buddy. He was one of the only TUF fighters ever to have his own team guide him through the season, and after losing in the finals has only been given favourable style matchups. After beating two of the rawest fighters on roster, it's time for one of the least-deserved main events I've ever seen.
David: I agree. While I also agree with fight nerds that Lobov is being unfairly criticized, we're not being cynics pointing out that Lobov wouldn't be in this main event if he didn't have McGregor's vote of confidence. Dana White would go streaking on the White House lawn if Conor told him he would quit the UFC unless Dana did it. Nonetheless, here we are. Lobov has led a relatively unspectacular career but he's also fought competition that isn't YAMMA level.
What's at stake?
Phil: Yair gets the next crack at the Aldo-Holloway winner if he beats Edgar. All else seems a bit up in the air at the moment. It'd be nice to see something like Chan Sung Jung vs Swanson if Cub wins. Hell, it's probably the fight this one should have been anyway.
David: I don't know. Dana clearly figured out the logic of this fight at some quantum level so I think it stands to reason that a Lobov win would turn Dana into a complete zealot. Lobov vs. Jung next if he wins. Then Lobov versus McGregor for the welterweight title if he wins that one.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Cub has two approximate "modes" he fights in. In one, he's a patient, technical boxer with a crisp jab and precise movements. In the other he reverts to fighting on instinct, throwing huge, looping shots from outside his opponent's peripheral vision, launching his way into cartwheel kicks, or switching into southpaw to land his left round kick. It's an odd and not always cohesive mix between Yoel Diaz and Mike Winkeljohn, although the arrhythmia of it all means that opponents can suddenly find themselves caught by a winging bolo punch, or a slipping head kick, just when they least expect it.
While his takedown defense isn't impenetrable, Swanson is a similarly unique grappler, with a functional but bizarre game comprised of esoterica like hip-toss takedowns and omaplata sweeps. He's also exceptionally tough, but his tendency to go weird when he's under pressure can backfire: instead of shaking his opponents out of their approach, it simply opens him up to taking more damage.
David: Swanson is an interesting mixture of technical acumen and eccentric outbursts. There's no middle ground. He's either going off the tactic rails or strategically calm, but never the twain shall meet. As a result, this gives him a difficult rhythm to both execute and execute against. Still, his overhand right is money as far as gatekeepers go. He uncorks from below the equator, but he's good at timing so he gets away with things most fighters can't. In a way he reminds me of an ADHD version of TJ Dillashaw. Rather than synthesize his eccentric attack into a constant strategy, he wanders and stutters with it. That's what makes him "unpredictable". Still, these tactics work in MMA where results can subvert rank. In a way, this almost bodes well for Lobov.
Phil: Lobov is bizarre. He has comically short arms, yet fights as a distance counter striker? This got him pieced up by Alex White, who simply stuck him on the end of his jab, but Lobov showed visible development in his followup bouts - his fight against Avila was the thrift shop version of the Diaz-McGregor fight later that evening, where Lobov chopped away at the Cesar Gracie product's lead leg to pull him into his shots. Similarly, Lobov was able to use McGregor's favoured oblique kick against Teruto Ishihara.
He's physically tough and well-conditioned. That said, the only real advantage I can hold for him over Cub Swanson is that he knows what his bread and butter is and sticks to it rigorously, and that this is not a terrible basic style matchup for that fact alone, because Swanson's winging style may give him opportunities to land his right hook. Other than that, Swanson appears to be better at literally every single facet of MMA I can think of. Offensive wrestling, submission grappling, cardio, power, toughness, frame, you name it.
David: Hockey analogies alert! Nobody gave the Toronto Maple Leafs much of a chance against the big bad Washington Capitals. Why? Because the Capitals are anointed as the best team, and project to win the Stanley Cup. They're still a better team than Toronto, but the Leafs are built on speed, and offer a consistency that makes them dangerous if Washington feels like they don't have to adjust. That's Lobov versus Swanson. Swanson is the better fighter. But any deviation from a quality strategy can result in his struggles. Lobov will move a lot, switching stances to maintain a kind of feigned pressure that functions as pressure anyway. He moves forward at all times, and has a good sense of distance, even if he doesn't always capitalize on the distance he creates. You see this in his leg kicks. He's active and very effective with them but he's sometimes too close to throw them, which is prime for counters.
Insight from past fights
Phil: Who's the last person that Cub Swanson fought that was as bad as Lobov? I'm genuinely not sure. Donny Walker? Anyway, I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Lobov got technically dismantled by Alex White.... and I like Alex White! But he is not Cub Swanson.
David: Yea. For as much as we talk up Cub's "style", he's only ever lost to the absolute elite. If Lobov wins, it's because Lobov's bones were injected with adamantium.
Phil: The main one is the hellacious war with Choi, and what kind of toll it took on Cub. Unfortunately for Lobov, even if he does win, this is pretty much entirely going to be given as the reason why. Not without justification, either.
David: I don't know. Swanson has been taken out by strikes once, and it was because Jose Aldo landed a flying knee hadouken. If Lobov wins, I think it's due to an odd mixture of Lobov's constant style, and Swanson's deterioration within his diversive style.
Phil: The only way I can see Lobov winning this fight is if Swanson's chin has absolutely disintegrated. I cannot imagine Lobov picking up a decision, and he's not as big a power striker as advertised. The early going may be competitive if Swanson gets too funky for his own good, but I will be borderline shocked if Swanson doesn't butcher him as the fight goes deeper. Cub Swanson by TKO, round 3.
David: Yea, Lobov has the ability to make it a competitive match early on. His movement alone should be enough to make it difficult for Swanson to outright blitz him. But he'll get enough chances throughout the fight to land on Lobov until the fight is simply out of Lobov's hands. Cub Swanson by Guillotine, Round 3.