Despite competing at 145 pounds since 2006, UFC Hall of Famer Cub Swanson's decision to move down to the bantamweight division for the remainder of his career was an easy one.
Over the last few years, Swanson realized that younger athletes were just getting bigger and stronger, while the 38-year-old felt he was naturally getting smaller. So, he traveled from his hometown of Palm Springs, California, to the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas to undergo testing to see if competing at a lighter weight was a safe decision, and one that wouldn't have drastic effects on his performance.
The answer wasn't so clear-cut. Yes, his body could physically make 135 pounds when the time came to hit the scales, but the process wouldn't be easy. This decision meant a full lifestyle change.
At the UFC Apex in January, Swanson put together one of his most impressive performances to date, finishing Darren Elkins in the first round with ease. By his side that night was his wife and three children, who sat a mere 20 feet away from the octagon. This time around, things are different.
"My kids are going to stay home this weekend," Swanson said, beginning to choke up. "Cutting to 135 was a lot bigger sacrifice for me and my family. My grade of being a dad this camp (was) not so great. But I knew that going in, that my wife had to do the heavy majority of the work, and my hat's off to her on that.
"It's all the little things; getting up in the morning, getting ready for school. I had to sleep in and tell my wife, 'Hey, I got to sleep in, I got to recover," Swanson said before releasing the bottled-up emotions that have been building in the back of his mind throughout training camp.
"I needed to focus on this one. I'm getting towards the end of my career, and I needed to be able to focus, and I was able to do that. My kids are at home and me and my wife are going to have some relaxing time (after this fight)."
Missing quality time with family wasn't the only obstacle Swanson had to endure. Fasting became a daily routine. While training three to four times a day, Swanson held himself to only one meal and one shake a day, often consuming both in just a four-hour stretch. In doing so, he forced his body to adapt to a lighter weight – which it has.
One of Cub's best attributes is his speed, something he believes has improved since his last fight. As a result, his punches have become even more powerful, Swanson even recalling an instance while hitting pads where he hurt his own hand landing from the force of one of his punches. The power has since translated to his grappling, as well.
"All my training partners said that in my grappling exchanges and wrestling that I felt just as strong," Swanson said. "There were weeks where I was making descents where I didn't feel great, and I would make a transition in my eating; I'd start having three meals a day for a little while and I would maintain that weight until my strength would come back and my body would know that this is the new normal and we're OK here."
Approaching the end of his career, it's safe to ask, why now? Why make all these changes that affect nearly every choice he makes, when he may only be competing a couple more years? That answer is a simple one. Cub Swanson is as game as they come, and if mixed martial arts wasn't a challenge, it wouldn't be fun.
"At the end of the day, I really felt like I needed to suffer a little bit more," Swanson said. "I felt guilty getting into fight week and not suffering. I was spending time with my kids, training, and I had mastered it. But for me to be comfortable retiring down the road here shortly, I wanted to know that I gave it my all, and I needed to suffer more and give a little more to this sport."
"At this point in my career it's all about what I can learn from this and how I can grow as a human being and as a martial artist. Showing up on the scale, that's already an accomplishment. After that, it's just fun. The only thing I'm trying to prove at this point is to myself that I can do it, that I still have better performances ahead of me and not behind me, and that's all that matters."
Swanson (28-12 MMA, 13-8 UFC) makes his bantamweight debut against Jonathan Martinez (16-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC) in the co-main event at "UFC Fight Night 212: Grasso vs Araujo." Win, lose or draw, Swanson is here to stay in the bantamweight division, where he intends on closing out the remainder of his career. However long that may be.
"I turn 40 at the end of next year and I've told my wife over and over," Swanson paused. "We have those talks and I want to make sure that I reevaluate (retirement) at that point. That could be it, but I don't know. It all depends on where these fights lead."
"(Next) October, I want the UFC to come to Palm Springs. We have a brand-new arena and I want to headline a fight night, and maybe that'll be it, I don't know. But that's one thing that would make me happy, bringing the UFC to my hometown."
This story first published at UFC.com.