Artem Lobov is taking on established veteran Cub Swanson -- in a main event, an Ultimate Fighting Championship main event. To the hardcore MMA fans around the world, this matchup makes little sense, but in truth, the UFC Fight Night 108 headliner on Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee, should be an enjoyable watch. Swanson will either outclass the SBG Ireland rep and deliver a healthy dosage of his trademark “beautiful violence” or Lobov will deliver a truly mind-boggling upset. We have very good reason to believe the former is significantly more likely, but anything can happen in MMA.
The rest of this card is stacked with mostly irrelevant but thoroughly entertaining scraps, most of them pitting action fighters against action fighters. Al Iaquinta makes his long-awaited return to the UFC in the co-main event, taking on the inexorcisable ghost of Diego Sanchez. Further down the lineup, bantamweight knockout artists John Dodson and Eddie Wineland make for an enticing pair, while Joe Lauzon and Mike Perry give this event a lot of promise for the fight fan with nothing else to do on a balmy night in April.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Swanson vs. Lobov” matchup, with analysis and picks (live odds):
FeatherweightsCub Swanson (24-7) vs. Artem Lobov (13-12-1)
THE MATCHUP: Swanson-Lobov is an absolute joke of a main event. Lobov is 2-2 in the UFC and has never beaten a top contender -- or a contender of any kind, for that matter. Swanson certainly deserves a headlining slot at this point in his storied career, particularly on the heels of his “Fight of the Year”-worthy scrap with blue-chip prospect Doo Ho Choi at UFC 206. In truth, this matchup is happening because Lobov basks in the reflective glow of training partner and bona fide superstar Conor McGregor. If we are being honest, it is a much brighter spotlight than the Russo-Irishman deserves.
This is not to say that Lobov is a bad fighter. Indeed, one reason for his spotty record is the fact that Lobov spent years accepting short-notice fights on the European regional circuit, essentially acting as a professional opponent for more promising talents. The combined record of his 27 opponents at the time he fought them stands at a respectable 187-58-5. If we include his four opponents on “The Ultimate Fighter 22,” three of whom Lobov knocked out, the numbers jump to 231-65-5. His win-loss ratio may barely exceed 50 percent, but his opponents walk away with a victory in 77 percent of their bouts. There are a fair few novices and fighters with losing records in there, but there is also top prospect Alex Enlund, English mainstay Mike Wilkinson, former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship title challenger Dave Hill and one-time British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion Shay Walsh, whom Lobov finished. His 12 losses aside, Lobov’s resume is actually quite impressive, and it paints the picture of a man who has seen it all.
However, Lobov has not yet seen Swanson. Though Swanson’s run-ins with Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar snapped a six-fight winning streak and established a firm ceiling on his championship potential, he began quietly getting his career back on track in 2016 before loudly announcing his return to contendership with the aforementioned win over Choi. Where Lobov is a plodding clubber with a badly underdeveloped ground game, Swanson is well-rounded, dynamic and, when the stars align, a capable technician in every phase.
Lobov has improved his striking game since the two losses that began his UFC run. Upon entering the UFC, “The Russian Hammer” was essentially mimicking McGregor, waiting on his opponents and trying to uncork the Dubliner’s patented back-step cross counter. McGregor’s depth of skill, however, was nowhere to be seen, and Lobov seemed convinced that he could knock out his opponents simply by waiting for the perfect shot. His belief was buoyed by his success on “The Ultimate Fighter” despite only owning four knockout wins in professional competition. Against Teruto Ishihara, it was clear that Lobov had retooled his game. More pressure, more combinations and a powerful-if-rudimentary kicking game made him a much more consistent threat and allowed him to soundly beat a talented young prospect.
Even with this new focus, it is difficult to imagine Lobov tracking down Swanson, and if he does, it is even more difficult to imagine him knocking out the elite fighter. Only Jose Aldo has accomplished that feat, and Swanson has taken the best shots of men like Holloway, Choi, Jeremy Stephens and Dustin Poirier. He should not have to rely on his chin too much in this bout. Though he has a tendency to get wild when letting his hands go, he is a smart mover with quick feet and evades a respectable 63 percent of his opponents’ strikes. Swanson is nominally a boxer, but he can throw powerful and flashy kicks when the need arises. Though he does not usually rely on it, he is also a proficient grappler. He was well on his way to beating Ricardo Lamas in 2011 when the seasoned opportunist caught him in a guillotine, and he brilliantly outgrappled Poirier in 2013. Only two of Lobov’s losses have come via submission, but skilled grapplers have dominated him on the floor in a few too many bouts to expect much scrambling prowess on his part.
THE ODDS: Swanson (-600), Lobov (+455)
THE PICK: The only X-factor that could turn this easily predictable fight into an upset is Swanson’s chin. He has always been a durable fighter, but he absorbed more punishment in that war with “The Korean Superboy” than in most of his other fights combined. The bout gave him an opportunity to show off his grit and veteran savvy, but there is a good chance it might have taken an irreplaceable chunk out of his durability. Still, if that was the way Swanson fought to prove that a true prospect could not use him as a steppingstone, imagine the ferocity he will bring to bear against an opponent who should not be fighting him in the first place. As close as Choi came to knocking out the Jackson-Wink MMA mainstay, Swanson came even closer to putting away the young’un on several occasions. Anything can happen in the fight game, but unless the world has gone completely mad, this is Swanson’s fight to lose. The pick is Swanson by third-round TKO.
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