When the last punch connected from Matt Brown’s fist to Mike Swick’s head, the former ‘Ultimate Fighter’ season one cast member thought "enough is enough."
Swick had been out for over two years trying to contend with an illness called esophageal spasm that affected his ability to eat, sleep and virtually anything else he needed to function as a professional fighter.
He came back because the medicine doctors gave him helped subside the disease, but the additional effects from the drugs made Swick feel like he was sleepwalking through his two fights back in the UFC.
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Following his knockout loss to Brown in 2012, Swick decided in his own head that he was done fighting because his body just wasn’t cooperating any longer to allow him to compete at the highest levels. It wasn’t fair to his opponents, the UFC and most importantly Swick himself to go into a fight at half-strength, moving at half-speed.
"Basically, I put fighting behind me," Swick explained when speaking to FOX Sports. "After I came back and fought on FOX the last time, I assumed I was going to be healthy because I was on medication. The medication helped my condition and so I felt I was good to fight. So I signed up to fight and the medication kind of hindered me because it was sedative type stuff and the problems came back. So I was already signed and already in and I made a mistake in my judgment. So after those two fights, I won one and lost one, but they were both bad performances in my opinion.
I’m going to take this fight like it’s my last and I’m going to fight this fight like it’s my last. Like it’s the last time I will ever fight, that I will ever be seen and I’m going to leave everything out there.
— Mike Swick
"I didn’t like the way I looked and the way I performed. Given the situation with the condition I was in, I thought it was time to hang it up. I didn’t officially retire but I moved on and I assumed my fight career was over."
Swick didn’t expect some grand parade to be held in his honor as he walked away from fighting so he just quietly retired to a corner of the world where he could start fresh again.
Even during his best days as an elite talent in the UFC, Swick had been making regular trips to Thailand to brush up on his Muay Thai kickboxing while enjoying the lush tropical weather and scenery around the Asian country. He made friends and found new training partners, but over time he also made a discovery — there were no top flight gyms in the area building the next generation of mixed martial artists.
It was a niche Swick would fill quite nicely. He had been a part of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) since its inception, long before Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier decorated the wall with UFC championships. There he learned under coaches like Javier Mendes and Bob Cook and he decided this would be the perfect time to pass along some of that knowledge to a new talent pool in Thailand.
"This is bigger than anything I’ve ever done," Swick said about AKA Thailand. "The inspiration and the feeling of seeing these guys come in here and I judge success on how many people you reach and touch and impact and change and I can only do so much in my own career by fighting. It’s not even comparable to the change and influence and the success you can have with a gym like this.
"This is the gym that’s helping to launch their careers. It’s really cool."
Swick spent far more time coaching than he did on the mats, but he eventually started rolling with his fighters and showing technique instead of just teaching it. The best part about his time in Thailand was the condition that hampered him for the better part of a decade started to loosen its grip on him.
"Through just living here and helping these guys while eating clean and healthy, just miraculously I got better," Swick said. "Now I’m where the medicine is completely gone. I can eat, I got my size back and I got my strength back. I found myself training with these guys full time again and I still wasn’t thinking about fighting again."
In Swick’s head, the loss to Brown was going to serve as the final fight of his career and he was already moved on while training several fighters who appeared on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ in China as well as heavyweights like Soa Palelei, who started making regular trips to the gym.
During his time building a gym in Thailand, Swick’s wife got pregnant and when it got close to her due date, they traveled back to the United States for the baby’s birth. While he was awaiting the birth of his daughter, Swick went back to his old stomping grounds at AKA to train and stay in shape while he was living stateside for a few weeks.
"My wife went home to have our baby girl and I went with her of course and while I was there I started training at AKA and working with all the guys, Luke (Rockhold) D.C (Daniel Cormier) and it just became abundantly clear while I was back at headquarters that I felt great, I felt healthy, I felt strong, I felt good and my problems were erased," Swick said.
"And I thought ‘why am I not fighting?’"
Swick decided right then and there to give fighting another go. His body was healthy and while his 36th birthday was on the horizon, Swick didn’t take but a fraction of the damage that most other fighters would have taken at that same age.
He called UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to ask for a fight for the first time in three years.
"He was happy," Swick said about his conversation with Silva. "He was concerned about my health, but I don’t think anyone really knows where I’m at. I think this fight’s going to show a lot. I don’t think people are convinced.
"I don’t think him or anyone else really knows what to expect or the performance I’m going to put on. I’m super excited to get out there and show that I’m back. To get out there and have that kind of fight that I haven’t had for a long time."
Swick will face Alex Garcia on the UFC 189 prelims airing live on FOX Sports 1, but this return to the Octagon isn’t happening for the sake of rebuilding what he once lost. Swick isn’t concerned right now about becoming the No. 1 contender or earning a title shot. He’s just glad to be back.
There’s just something about that hyperkinetic experience of walking through the curtains with thousands of screaming fans surrounding you, music thumping on gigantic speakers and seeing the Octagon that make Swick feel like he’s going home again.
He never took it for granted before, but considering for the biggest part of the past three years he was resigned to never competing again, Swick is going to appreciate this experience maybe more than any other fight in his career.
"The best way to describe it — I’m going to fight every fight like it’s my last," Swick said. "I’ve been through so much in my career. I’ve been laid off two times now where I thought my career was over. You can’t predict when you’re done. You could have a car accident, you could have an illness, so many things can take you out of the game and I think too many people get wrapped up in two or three fights ahead.
"I’m going to take this fight like it’s my last and I’m going to fight this fight like it’s my last. Like it’s the last time I will ever fight, that I will ever be seen and I’m going to leave everything out there and it’s going to be a fight where if I never fight again, I’m going to look back and be proud of what I did. Win or lose, I’m going to be proud."
The only guarantee Swick will make ahead of his fight this weekend is this return to the UFC will be his last. If things go well, Swick might fight consistently for the next few years but when he next leaves the Octagon it will really be his last time.
"This is the final comeback," Swick said. "This is the final journey of my career. Wherever this takes me, this is it. I feel so amazing. This is the best I’ve ever felt. I’m healthy for the first time in eight years but I’m definitely not going to be fighting past this stretch."