Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
LOS ANGELES -- At his worst, Mike Swick felt like the kid who had to stay inside and do homework while everyone else in the neighborhood was out playing.
His teammates at the gym he helped put on the map, the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., soared to great heights in recent years.
All the while, Swick, who's been in the national spotlight since "The Ultimate Fighter 1," had to sit on the sidelines, learning how to cope with the esophageal condition which sidetracked his MMA career.
"It was sad sitting on the sidelines watching instead of actually participating and being one of the guys that was the promoting the gym and fighting under the team flag," said the veteran welterweight.
But the hours are winding toward his opportunity to once again contribute to AKA's cause. Nine hundred ten days removed from his last fight and 1,148 since his last win, Swick returns to the Octagon to meet DaMarques Johnson on Saturday's UFC on FOX 4 main card at the Staples Center.
"Now it's my second chance," Swick said. "Now it's my turn this weekend to take one for my team."
It wasn't too long ago that Swick seemed on a climb to the top of the world. He won four straight fights after dropping from middleweight to welterweight and put himself in line for a No. 1 contender's fight with Dan Hardy at UFC 99.
But Swick lost to Hardy, then lost to Paulo Thiago, before his well-documented issues with a condition called esophageal spasm put him out of action for nearly 2 1/2 years.
Even Swick, who is known around the MMA business for his sunny personality, had his moments of self-doubt.
"There were definitely dark times," Swick said. "That's when you have to pick yourself up and say what do you want to do, do you want to give up, do you want to stop, or do you want to fight this thing out? I've always been a fighter, you know, so I always had to pick myself up and be positive. You know, the easy thing to do would have been to quit. say, OK, its not for me, but I didn't I pushed forward and here I am today."
Swick's trainer, Javier Mendez, says he never had any doubt Swick would return to the Octagon.
"It was extremely tough for him," Mendez said. "He was one fight away from the title shot. I mean, he basically, his dream of being the best he could be was getting closer, and it all got taken away by the stomach problems. So no, it wasn't easy for him, he was always looking for the answer, so I never felt that he was done, I always felt that he was going to come back I never thought he was done, I always got that impression from him and I never allowed myself to think he was done."
Mendez isn't the only person in the industry to echo these sentiments. UFC president Dana White, not exactly known as a softie, admitted he's glad to see the Houston native back in the Octagon.
"I love Mike Swick," said White. "You know, he's one of the originals, from season one of The Ultimate Fighter, he's one of the greatest guys you can meet, he's one of the hardest workers, and he battled this, whatever it is that he had, he battled it, he overcame it ... it's good to have him back, I'm excited to have him, and I'm excited for his fight."
Indeed, White's excited enough for Swick's return that he promoted it to the network television main card, in a bout that could produce fireworks. While Johnson's 4-4 record in the Octagon doesn't exactly put him on the fast track for to title contention, all eight fights have resulted in finishes, which means his Octagon appearances are rarely boring.
Swick, for his part, earned his nickname "Quick" due to his propensity for fast finishes when he burst onto the UFC scene, including using his "Swickotine" submission on Joe Riggs at the same Staples Center at UFC 60.
Will Swick, at 33 years old and more than two years removed from his last fight, be able to once again climb the ladder at welterweight? That remains to be seen. For now, Swick simply appreciates the opportunity to compete once again.
"I'm in a situation where, I have to go out and perform on the big stage and everyone's watching," he said. "I feed off that. Everything leading up to this point has been awesome. I'm feeling great mentally, I'm relaxed, I'm healthy."
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