Mike Swick finds himself in something of a unique situation as he prepares to make his comeback at UFC 189. He has been on the roster for an entire decade and competed inside the Octagon no fewer than 14 times but this will be his first fight in three years.
While the TUF 1 veteran has proven he belongs in the UFC by winning 10 fights out of 14, Swick has not been tested nearly as often as he would have liked. He didn’t fight once in 2011, 2013 or 2014 due to a combination of illness and injury.
So while he can take some pride in being one of the longest serving fighters on the roster this is tempered by the knowledge that his UFC career has been blighted by various health issues.
“I’ve been signed with the UFC for over 10 years, it’s been a long time but I think it helps that I only fight every two years which is what helps keep my longevity," he said. "It’s because of my health but never the less it means I’ve had a lot of time off where I didn’t take damage, didn’t get beat up and I think that’s helped and I think that’s why I feel so good and so strong and so ready even at 35-years-old.”
Swick is set to face Alex Garcia at UFC 189, a card headlined by the eagerly anticipated title bout between reigning featherweight champion Jose Aldo and outspoken Irish challenger Conor McGregor. The American feels that fate has conspired to give him the perfect platform on which to make his comeback.
“You can’t plan coming back being healthy and being in the best shape of my life and also being on one of the best cards in UFC history. It’s like a dream come true, UFC 189 is going to be at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, one of the most premier places to fight, the premier venue in the states, you can’t just make these things happen.”
No one is more surprised to see Swick fighting again than the man himself. By his own admission he thought he was done after a KO loss to Matt Brown in December, 2012.
“After my last two performances it was evidently clear that my health was a big factor and I assumed I was done fighting and had to move on and go to the next chapter and then I came to Phuket to build AKA Thailand.”
Swick still has three more fights remaining on a contract extension he signed in 2012 and never officially announced his retirement from the sport. However in his mind he had already accepted that his fighting career was over.
“I didn’t expect to fight again is the funny thing. I was building the gym and training with the guys and I kind of put fighting behind me which I think was one of the most important things because it relived the stress and pressure of trying to get back in the Octagon so much. I think just being stress free and focusing on something else while training and eating healthy and living clean it managed to heal me.”
In 2006 Swick was told by doctors that he was suffering from a stomach disorder called dyspepsia. He was placed on a highly restrictive diet that left him unable to retain body mass but four years later the fighter discovered that the original diagnosis was erroneous and that he had been trying to combat completely the wrong disease.
In actual fact, Swick was suffering from esophageal spasms which are treatable (as opposed to dyspepsia, which isn’t). However his career was still in the balance and it wasn’t until he moved full time to Thailand that the TUF veteran would find a way to effectively manage the condition.
“I managed to completely wean myself off the medicines and completely heal my situation which is esophageal spasms. I’m healthy, I’m training at this gym and it’s been a Godsend to be able to come back and to fight again.”
Swick had switched focus from fighting for the UFC himself to building a camp in Thailand where he could help to train a new generation of mixed martial artists. It is one of multiple facilities in Phuket which offer MMA training but few can be quite as expensive or ambitious as the recently constructed AKA Thailand.
The camp is surrounded by jungle and sit at the base of a hill in Southern Phuket. Swick says it represents the realization of an ambition he has held for many years.
“I’ve been training in Thailand for 15 years in all different areas like Bangkok and Pattaya and I started coming to Phuket around 2008 and doing seminars locally. This island it just seemed like a hotbed for fighters and for fitness enthusiasts and I always wanted to build a gym that had the training of the gym I train at in America, American Kickboxing Academy.”
The term "cage rust" gets bandied about quite commonly but seldom can it be more applicable than in Swick’s case. He hasn’t stepped foot inside the Octagon since December, 2012 but is at pains to point out that he has a track record when it comes to successful UFC comebacks.
“It’s been a long time but I took almost three years off and I came back and I got ‘Knock out of the Night’ against DaMarques Johnson at UFC on Fox 4 so I feel very confident that I’ll be able to go out there and perform the way I want to.”
Illness and injury have cost Swick several years of his career but having stared retirement in the face he now feels like a man with absolutely nothing to lose. He never expected to fight again, let alone to fight on one of the biggest PPV cards of the year and the 35-year-old is determined to savor every second of the experience.
“Right now there’s no worry about rankings or titles or anything because this is me getting an opportunity that I didn’t think I had. I’m just going to enjoy it and leave it in the Octagon, I’m going to go out there and fight my heart out and whatever happens, happens.”
You can see a series of videos about Mike Swick’s preparation for UFC 189 here.
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