Swick looks to climb back up UFC ladder after coming to terms with health issues
It's been four months since Mike (Quick) Swick's last fight, just a trickle in the sands of time compared to his previous layoff.
A painful stomach disorder and blown-out knee kept Swick out of action for 910 days then.
To put his absence in context, Swick missed 40 numbered UFC events before returning this summer to beat DaMarques Johnson. The man who was once just one win away from a welterweight title fight was missing in action for a long time.
After Paulo Thiago choked him unconscious on Feb. 6, 2010, at UFC 109, Swick was sidelined until Aug. 4, 2012, when he beat Johnson in the second round on a televised card.
"That was a proud moment," he said of the comeback win.
Swick (15-4) returns to the cage next Saturday when he faces Matt (The Immortal) Brown on a televised card in Seattle.
Having survived the nerves and uncertainty of his comeback bout — and yet more surgery that followed — the 33-year-old Swick is looking forward to entering the cage in peak condition.
"All those (health) issues are packed up," said the Texan who now calls San Jose home. "I feel like I went in there (against Johnson) and dealt with everything. I had success and got the victory. It's going to be that much easier now, not having to deal with all that stuff that I had to deal with then.
"So it's an easier path but I feel like a tough opponent and a good test. I think this is a fight that will kind of showcase where I belong in the division."
Brown (17-11) is a hard-nosed fighter who has won three straight and four of his last five to improve his UFC record to 8-5.
The 31-year-old Brown is a gamer. He has gone to decision just four times in his career (winning two and losing two).
"He's the kind of fighter that I've wanted to fight for a while," said Swick. "Because he has never been knocked out, he's one of those guys that is known for taking punches and just bulldozing through them."
Swick, who says he has "always got reaction from my punches," sees Brown's chin as a good test to see how his striking stacks up.
Like Swick, Brown knows all about emerging from dark days.
Brown once overdosed on heroin. He has spent time behind bars and recalls getting "jacked up on meth" for underground fights back in the day before deciding to clean up his life and try MMA as a career.
His nickname "The Immortal" is more about surviving brushes with death outside the cage rather than for his fighting style.
Swick's nickname Quick, meanwhile, came from a string of rapid finishes. His first two UFC fights lasted just 42 seconds in total. The next two lasted 2:09 and 2:19, respectively.
Despite his comeback win, it has not been all smooth sailing for Swick in recent months. After Johnson, he underwent knee and elbow surgery.
The knee surgery was linked to previous anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
"It never healed correctly so I never had full extension," he explained. "Basically I didn't have a quad for that whole (Johnson) training camp. So I couldn't extend the knee, I couldn't flex the quad and that was obviously a huge issue."
"It worked enough to get through the motions of fighting," he said of the Johnson win.
Immediately after the fight, a surgeon cleaned up scar tissue in his knee that was hampering his flexibility.
Swick has had three elbows surgeries, the results of too much mitt work in training, he says.
"The elbow just needed to be cleaned out," he said.
Like "The Six Million Dollar Man," Swick has been fixed more than a few times.
"I've had so many surgeries," he said with a laugh. "I've been rebuilt so many times."
When the UFC called to offer up Brown, Swick said it was "sooner than I expected but there was no way I was going to turn it down."
Swick has had to deal with more than bone chips and torn ligaments over the years.
After years of distress, he was diagnosed with a bad case of esophageal spasms — painful muscle contractions that affect the esophagus, which connects the throat to the stomach. The spasms can feel like severe chest pain.
After beating Canadian David Loiseau at UFC 63 in September 2006, he knew something was wrong and was cutting things out of his diet that were causing his body to react badly.
It started with him not being able to sleep. If he ate certain foods or ate late at night, he would experience painful spasms when he lay down.
"It feels like a heart attack kind of and it doesn't go away for several hours. You can pretty much forget sleep when it happens," he said.
If it happened during training camp, his workouts suffered. And it was especially bad if it came during fight week.
"It got to a point where it was really tough to deal with," he said.
He started having trouble eating enough to maintain his weight. Then a middleweight, he weighed 182 pounds the day of his Yushin Okami fight at UFC 69 in April 2007. Okami would have cut weight to make 185 and then put on pounds in the hours leading to the fight.
Swick lost a decision and decided to move down to welterweight. He also started visiting a string of doctors in a bid to figure out what was wrong.
"It was just a nightmare," he said.
"The doctors don't have as much as info as you would think for a condition like this. So most of what they were doing for me was experimental."
That included getting Botox injections in his esophagus.
"So while training for fighting and going and having these fights, I'm on all these medicines and procedures and it was just a big mess because none of them were helping. And they were making things worse, making it almost impossible to train.
"A lot of the medicine were sedatives so I was really weak during training."
Swick's penchant for over-training didn't help either.
"My mind wants to train harder than my body can hold up. And so I basically I break my body and destroy it."
Amazingly he won four more fights before taking on Dan (The Outlaw) Hardy at UFC 105 in November 2009 with a title shot on the line.
"I was going through the worst part of it during that fight," he said of his health problems.
Swick lost by decision. Less than three months later, he was beaten by Thiago.
At one point between fights, he was afraid to go to the doctor for fear of what he might hear.
"Because I had just been misdiagnosed, I had tried all these experimental treatments, and then the new doctor diagnosed me with the esophageal spasm and I didn't believe him any more. So I literally thought, thinking in my mind just because I had been through so much, I had something serious — like maybe something terminal.
"I thought these guys, they don't know what's going on. There's no chance something this bad and this painful can be just no big deal."
He returned after the fight and his doctor convinced him it was a bad case of esophageal spasm.
Swick put fighting aside while he tried to find a balance, determining what foods he can eat and those he can't.
He managed to do that and returned to training, only to blow out his knee. Surgery and another lengthy delay followed.
The good news is it gave him more time to learn how to deal with the esophageal spasm.
"It works great, I have it under control," he said. "It's something I continue to live with and always will but it doesn't affect my training any more. It doesn't affect my strength, my conditioning, my cardio. In fact it's put me in better shape because I've been forced to eat healthier than I've ever eaten before.
"And the side effect of that is you feel great."
He can no longer eat garlic, spice and pepper or anything acidic. Oranges are out. He avoids caffeine and can only manage chocolate in very small quantities.
Today his diet includes vegetables and unseasoned chicken, meat and fish. Coconut water is a fave, as is wheatgrass, and he uses avocado a lot.
At first, he says his diet was "horrible." But he gradually learned what he could use to make things interesting without upsetting his body.
"It's about mixture," he said. "I have a lot of stuff to work with so I can mix and match and create new recipes."
"Me ordering in a restaurant is very interesting."
One positive from his long layoff is that Swick believes it has helped preserve a body that has seen 19 pro fights and more than 20 amateur bouts.
"You feel them all on the body, considering I'm getting older now," he said. "But I feel great. I definitely can say I'm in the best shape I've ever been in."
While he has escalated his cardio and conditioning, he is taking or precautions in sparring, just to be on the safe side. He wears more protective gear than he used to and is more cautious grappling.
Today he says he is stronger than before, having survived all his health issues.
"This was definitely a test. And it was tough."