Both Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson seemed a lock for a title fight against Max Holloway when they began 2018. But recent losses haven’t deterred them from pursuing another shot at gold starting at UFC Atlantic City.
The script was all set for both Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson going into 2018. Edgar would receive the first shot at Max Holloway, and Swanson would be a lock for a rematch with either man after he defeated the still up-and-coming Brian Ortega. Instead, both men have been pushed back into the shuffle for a title bout and their rematch at UFC Atlantic City is seen as the winner’s final chance to remain on the short list for a title bout.
Frankie Edgar’s skills and gamesmanship led him to his third featherweight title shot last December. He failed twice to wrest the belt from José Aldo, but when Max Holloway took the title it changed Edgar’s career trajectory. At the beginning of 2017, Edgar was seemingly left with nowhere to go. A trilogy against Aldo did not appear to be in the cards and there were no appealing fights for him at either bantamweight or lightweight. But with a new champion in Holloway, Edgar now found himself as the unquestioned greatest threat to the featherweight king as he remained the highest ranked fighter that the champion had yet to vanquish in his run.
An injury took Edgar out of the fight with Holloway in December. When the bout was rescheduled for March, it was the Hawaiian who was unable to make the date. With a month remaining before the bout, it would have been easy for Edgar to wait for the title shot he had already locked in. However, after not fighting for over a year he made a move unanimously praised as he chose to remain on the card and take a fight against surging contender Brian Ortega. The gamble ended up not going the way of the New Jersey native as Ortega finished Edgar via knockout in the first round, the first time he had ever been stopped in his MMA career.
At a time when there has been a wave of criticism regarding fighters who choose not to compete for business decisions, Edgar electing to fight for both the competition and to help a card that had lost its headliner only aided his popularity. Now after the first stoppage loss of his career, he has now chosen to make a quick turnaround to face another dangerous contender who is also eager to return to form.
Cub Swanson was surging toward a fight for the title on the backs of four dominant performances. After years of coming up short in big fights, it appeared that “Killer” had finally turned the corner in his career and was gaining the momentum to get into the championship bout that had eluded him in nearly seven years in the UFC. His fight against Doo Ho Choi encapsulated what made him a fan favorite, the back-and-forth battle displayed both his grit and his skills in a 15-minute showcase that the entire MMA world saw.
Swanson’s own fight with Brian Ortega appeared to be the final hurdle toward a rematch with Holloway. Swanson was the UFC veteran and winner of classic battles while Ortega had yet to be tested against someone of Swanson’s caliber. Swanson appeared to be in control after the first frame but Ortega made the necessary adjustments in round two that led to a submission finish that halted Swanson’s momentum on the spot.
Furthermore, the bout was the last on Swanson’s contract. When Edgar pulled out of the fight with Holloway in December, Swanson was offered the bout but declined as he was not able to come to terms with a new contract before signing on for the fight. Now coming off a loss, Swanson admitted that he did not know what to expect considering he had declined a new UFC deal when it was offered. In a bizarrely timed move, Swanson was briefly removed from the UFC’s rankings completely only for the bout with Edgar to be announced later in the week. Swanson would go on the MMA Hour to announce that he had re-signed with the UFC and had even been offered a better contract than before with the stipulation that he accept the bout in Atlantic City against Edgar.
The bout is a rematch of their fight in 2014 where Edgar prevailed via fifth-round neck crank. While both men remain dangerous, the breakdown of the fight looks to be relatively the same going into the rematch now four years later. Edgar used his wrestling to neutralize Swanson in the first fight and should look to use the same strategy again. The key will be to use sharp, crisp boxing to close the distance and set up a takedown in the center of the cage or against the fence. On the mat, Edgar’s prowess and volume will make it difficult for Swanson to tie-up “The Answer” or threaten with submission attempts from the guard.
For Swanson, he should look to take control of the center early by throwing first and not allowing Edgar to get into a rhythm. Edgar’s movement is among the best in MMA so being accurate will be of utmost importance. Swanson will need to be able to counter Edgar in order to make him hesitant to close the distance. Also, keeping the former champion at bay opens up Swanson’s diversified striking attack at mid-range.
The winner will take a big step toward remaining relevant in the featherweight title picture. Holloway and Ortega are expected to collide in the summer and Jeremy Stephens is riding impressive back-to-back finishes that have him pegged as the next in line. The winner of Edgar and Swanson figures to be behind him, and in all likelihood being the first option in case of an injury. Nothing less than a title eliminator should be next for the winner, making the bout all the more important going into the Atlantic City night.