After all the words written about and spoken by Mike Swick in the lead-up to his August comeback to the Octagon after nearly 18 months on the sidelines, I asked the longtime welterweight standout for just one to describe what it was like to not only return, but to win a Knockout of the Night bout against DaMarques Johnson on a UFC on FOX card.
“Unbelievable,” said Swick. That pretty much covers it, simply because it’s not easy to walk right back into the welterweight division of the UFC after a year and a half away, shake off the rust, and get right back in the thick of things with a highlight reel knockout win. And on network television no less.
“For two and a half years prior, before I even knew I was fighting DaMarques, from what doctors said and what I was going through, it was hard to believe that I was even going to be in the Octagon fighting, let alone with my hand raised after a knockout on FOX,” said Swick. “That was what was unbelievable.”
What was believable was the support Swick got from the mixed martial arts community once his return from injuries and an esophageal issue was announced. In a world with a short attention span, it seemed like no one forgot “Quick” Swick, the lightning-handed knockout artist who is also one of the game’s good guys. That didn’t go unnoticed by the appreciative 33-year-old.
“I got a lot more support than I expected,” he said. “In this sport you never can really tell when the critics are gonna show up and where they’re gonna show up, and they’ve shown up at times when I was surprised because I was doing really well with my career and things were going really well. And I would have critics say ‘well, that was good, but you’re not gonna beat that guy,’ or ‘that was good, but you’re never gonna do this.’ So I didn’t know what to expect and I definitely expected more critics going into the fight and more people doubting me being able to fight and win. But I had people hoping that I won and I really felt it. It felt really good to have that support and feel that it’s true. The emails and the letters and the social media messages that I got were just incredible. I felt like everyone was really pulling for me and really excited and inspired for me to go out there and get that win.”
It wasn’t just a fight thing either, even though having Swick back in the 170-pound mix is a welcome bit of news. What likely got people behind him and hoping for him to succeed was his struggle to get back. Everyone loves a comeback story, and Swick had a doozy, with his esophageal problems not just affecting his fight career, but his quality of life. So once that was under control, he got back to the business of having the best fighters in the world taking shots at him, and while most would call that a daunting task, he couldn’t have been happier, even if he had to relay the story of his darkest days repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the fight. But as he describes it, that’s a small price to pay for being an inspiration for those feeling that the mountains they have to climb in their own lives are too steep.
“I think a lot of people don’t know everything that happens in your life and everything you went through, but in my case, they must have a better sense of that,” said Swick. “It has been a really tough road and really hard, and oftentimes you go through those hard times and those hard roads and people don’t really understand, so you don’t get that level of appreciation of what you do to push through. I don’t know what really made it click for that fight and why people understood my journey more than the next guy’s. A lot of guys have hard roads. But people really picked it up and noticed that it wasn’t an easy road for me, but I pushed through and came back and fought to win.
“I’ve had to tell the story of my illness so many times and it’s good and I don’t complain because each person that hears it can take something from it,” he continues. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people that have been in similar situations and a lot of feedback from people who have very different situations, but they were inspired nonetheless because they wanted to succeed in something or do something that maybe they thought they couldn’t, and so it helped them chase after their dreams a little bit more. I think inspiration is the true meaning of success, and the more people that you inspire and impact in the world is where you judge how successful you are, versus how much money you have.”
Yet what was an emotional and inspiring night wasn’t without its hiccups. Johnson had a strong first round against Swick before being dispatched in the second, and the San Jose resident admits, “Up until the knockout, I wasn’t super impressed with my performance.” It was also a different world for Swick since he had last fought against Paulo Thiago in February of 2010, and he was well aware of that from the time he made it to Los Angeles for fight week.
“It’s tough coming back after so long and being away from it. I don’t know if you’d call it ring rust, but there’s definitely a lot going through your head when you don’t fight for two and a half years,” he said. “The sport’s changed, the production level, especially on a FOX show, has changed, so you know what to expect, but then again you don’t because the game has completely changed since you last fought. So there was a lot going through my mind, but now that I went through it all and fought, it’s just like another day. It was a lot smoother than I expected, and once I got into the rhythm of walking out and fighting, it was like another day at the office. So now I’m more excited and I know what to expect and I’m excited to get back in there and do my job, which is what I need to do on a regular basis.”
He’s not exaggerating either, because as soon as his phone rang offering him a quick turnaround for this Saturday’s UFC on FOX card in Seattle against Matt Brown, Swick was all in, making this his shortest break between fights since the four month span between his middleweight fights against Joe Riggs and David Loiseau back in 2006.
“I knew I had the time,” said Swick. “It was a push, because ideally I would have taken a little bit more time to heal up after the surgery (on his knee and elbow) before I jumped right into a fight camp, but I knew if I jumped right in I would definitely be in shape and I’d be ready to go. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to be on FOX, and luckily it worked out and I’m healthy. I feel great and I’m gonna be able to do a lot more in this fight than I was in the last fight, so that’s gonna be nice. This fight’s all about showing where my skills are. I want to showcase where I’m at versus making mistakes like last time.”
The hard-charging Brown is the kind of fighter that will not only make you pay for mistakes, but he’ll test where you’re at physically and mentally. In other words, it’s a fight Mike Swick can’t wait for. Then again, after what he’s been through, any fight is a welcome one.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Stylistically I like the matchup. I’m sure he (Brown) does too, and we mesh well together. I like the fact that he pushes forward and he’s aggressive, and aggressive fighters have always been good for me. I’d rather have an aggressive fighter than someone who’s just gonna sit back and wait for me to make the move. I think we’re gonna clash pretty nicely, and it’s either going to be a fast fight or an absolute war.”
The Unbelievable Comeback of Mike Swick
"I think we’re gonna clash pretty nicely, and it’s either going to be a fast fight or an absolute war." - Mike Swick