SEATTLE — When Mike Swick lost to Paulo Thiago at UFC 109, the veteran UFC welterweight probably anticipated fighting again inside of six months. Having lost consecutive bouts for the first time in his career, the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product surely envisioned returning to the cage and getting back into the win column sooner rather than later.
Over the previous four years, Swick had emerged as a fan favourite and a perennial contender, first as a middleweight after being a part of the historic first cast on The Ultimate Fighter, followed by a two-year stint in the welterweight ranks. Despite his two-fight skid, the charismatic and entertaining Houston native remained entrenched in the upper echelon of the division. A couple quick wins and he’d be right back in the mix.
He wouldn’t return for 910 days.
A prolonged ailment that first began bothering him in early 2007 was misdiagnosed before doctors finally determined that Swick suffered from esophageal spasms. He was scheduled to compete in January 2011, and then again in August 2011, but both times, injuries erased his return date.
“I wasn’t necessarily giving up or quitting, but I did think that there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to be training as hard as I need to or eat the food that I need to considering how many calories I’m burning a day, but I never stopped trying,” admitted the 33-year-old Swick. “I never stopped researching how to make it work, so it just started formulating into a successful plan and training methods, and it worked.”
After 30 months away from the cage, Swick finally returned to action on August 4, squaring off with DaMarques Johnson in the opening bout of the UFC’s fourth televised fight card on FOX.
Just over a minute into the second round, Johnson threw a right leg kick, but Swick caught it, and countered with a swift right hand down the pipe that dropped Johnson. He crashed to the canvas, the crowd erupted, and Swick celebrated. Later in the night, UFC president Dana White handed him a $50,000 bonus check for Knockout of the Night.
“It was amazing,” said Swick, finally able to put the emotions of the moment into words. “To go for so long without fighting — to have that taken away, and to sit and think about it for 910 days — it definitely expands that excitement when you get to get back in there, and everything works out like that. It was the best feeling as far as a victory as I’ve ever had.
“That’s a great accolade and it’s good to build those up,” he added of the Knockout of the Night award. “They always mention it when you fight, and it’s always good to get that kind of trophy. And obviously the financial side of it as well — when you go a long time without fighting, you don’t make the big money, so to get a big bonus like that was really nice as well.
“All that considered, that was definitely a really nice shower I had in the locker room after the fight where I could just sit back, relax, and think about all the good stuff that just happened, rather than me sitting around wondering why I’m getting all these bad breaks all the time.”
Finally back as an active member of the UFC roster, the wait between fights has been considerably shorter for Swick this time around. Saturday night as the UFC returns to FOX, the now 15-4 welterweight will return to the cage for the second time, squaring off with surging veteran Matt Brown, once again kicking off the main card portion of the televised event.
After spending two-plus years sidelined and snake-bitten, Swick is ready to start making up for lost time, but he’s not going to be stupid about it. He remains hyper-diligent about his diet, and has toned down his training in order to minimize the risk of injuries, and he feels like he’s a better fighter for it. He’s also happy to have his first fight back out of the way.
“Athletically, I’m better than I’ve ever been, for sure, and with every fight (that’s going to continue to improve). I feel like I was in good shape last fight, but this fight I will surely be in the best shape that I’ve ever been in in my life. I should perform at a level that I’ve never performed at before, and I owe that to my diet and the intensity of my training.
“Coming back there were a lot of questions about how I would adjust, but now I have all of those questions answered. At the end of the day, it worked out great. I felt right at home, it felt just like any other fight; it was as if I didn’t take any time off.”
The landscape of the welterweight division changed a great deal during Swick’s forced hiatus from competition, and continues to shift even now that he’s returned. While he was a perennial contender prior to his forced hiatus, it’s hard to know where Swick fits now that he’s back. The way he sees it, that’s what Saturday’s showdown with Brown on FOX is all about, and Swick doesn’t want to waste too much time making his case for being considered a contender once again.
“Matt Brown is doing really well right now; he’s got a lot of experience, and he’s won a lot of fights. He’s a tough fighter, so I think this is a good next step to kind of showcase my skills and show where I belong in the division. It’s a very important fight for me. I feel like my last fight was to prove I can still fight and I can still be a UFC fighter, and this fight is to prove where I stack up in the division.
“Everyone is predicting it to be a long war — Fight of the Night — and that could happen, but I’ve really put the emphasis on cardio (this training camp), and I put that emphasis on cardio to be able to have an extra fast-paced first-round, not to be able to last three rounds.
“I’m definitely going to be bringing the fight to him. It’s going to be very fast, a very high pace, and an explosive fight. If we can hold up, than it could definitely be an exciting, crazy, long fight, but I have a feeling that it’s most likely going to end in the first or second.”