By Julie Buehler
In a community made famous by movie stars and artists, one of the most recognizable names of today forged a reputation with fists, and knees, and the art of “beautiful destruction.”
Cub Swanson is currently the #4 ranked MMA fighter in the world according to Sherdog.com and his five fight winning streak in UFC has him among the sport’s most popular names and in title bout conversations. His older brother, Steve, is an up and coming fighter who’s looking for his moment to shine. When asking local, young MMA fighters who inspired them, the name Swanson comes after the first breath.
I sat down with the brothers at Cub’s gym, Tru MMA in Indio where he and co-owner Mike Mirelez train young kids, adults, men, women, competitive fighters or those who just want to fight for the best out of life. It was a fascinating look at how two young men are capitalizing on the fastest growing sport in America while building strong bonds, changing lives and giving this community a humble hero to cheer for.
For Steve and Cub, athletics started at an early age. “We grew up rough necks,” Steve said. “Always into grappling… you know, bumps and bruises, a lot of sports… so I’m sure we were going to get into this sooner or later.”
Sooner or later came at the right time for Cub, who, as a teenager, waded into problem drinking, drugs and the wrong influences, but found the sport of MMA, changed his own life and future of many others. “This gave me structure and something to work towards,” Cub said. “And that’s why I’ve dedicated my life to it. To me, this was my college… I got a degree in (MMA) and it came through years and years of hard work.”
Those years and years of work took Cub through miles of hard travel to learn the sport of MMA, build his resume and create enough momentum to become a successful fighter in his own right, but he knew he wanted to establish Tru MMA to give back to the community.
“The biggest thing is, I want to help people,” Cub said. “The time that I’m here, I want people to take advantage of it because I really don’t have secrets, I don’t hold back from anybody.”
“When I came up in this sport, I had to travel, Mike and I, all the time, just to get the knowledge,” Cub said. “And a lot of people take it for granted, but a lot of these guys (fighters training at Tru MMA) don’t. So the guys that do take advantage of that are very fortunate.”
Cub turned pro in 2004 and spent roughly 6 years fighting in the World Extreme Cagefighting circuit before it merged with the UFC. Cub said being sifted in such a brutal sport gave him perspective he can share with everyone at the gym. And with the sport of MMA heating up, he said there will be plenty of gyms looking to break into the business, without having the proper background.
“It’s hot right now. The biggest thing is, do your research, look up your instructor, see what they’re about, see what their record is, do they have credentials?” Cub said. “Gyms are going to pop up, but they’re in it for the wrong reasons, trying to make money and get in with the fad, but it’s not a fad, it’s something that is in my heart. Something that I want to give back and that’s why we do it. It’s something you truly have to love to do this sport because it’s not easy.”
In fact, Cub said while some students are just looking for a fight, MMA illuminates true character. If life can break you, this sport will break you. And the opposite is true. A fighter is a fighter. As a coach and trainer, Cub has learned how to build a fighter’s confidence to help them reach their goals and recognizes the benefits of that for his own fighting career.
“I’m starting to get into my prime as a professional and I’m just really starting as a coach,” he said. “Everything I’m learning, I roll over to them (his students) and it actually helps me as a pro because I have to break things down even more and whatever I teach them, I have to hold myself accountable for. So there’s no cutting corners. They’re not just my students, they’re my training partners and everything they do, I do and everything I do, they do.”
Steve said it comes down to the individual’s desire to achieve their goal. “You know it’s not a money thing,” Steve said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you do… if you’re willing to put some work into it… you can come to us and we’ll turn you into a warrior.”
From helping 10-year-old girls develop confidence to getting a 27-year-old ready for a professional debut after losing 100 pounds and overcoming depression, this gym is more than just an MMA training facility and for the owner, Cub, to see lives changed as he’s living his dream, this success is particularly sweet.
“I know what got me here, and it’s hard work,” Cub said. “And I’ve been fortunate to have the down sides of my career first, so as I’m actually having success, I don’t take it for granted…I feel like this road is the road I was supposed to be on.”
The road to Tru MMA is easy to find off the I-10, but the road to a becoming a true MMA fighter is far more elusive.
Julie Buehler hosts the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day from 1-4 on 1010 KXPS, the valley’s all sports station. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in M-F 1-4 pst at www.team1010.com or watch the show on Ustream.