Mike Swick thought the end had come three years ago, when mid-revival Matt Brown caught him clean on the chin and millions of FOX viewers witnessed firsthand exactly how far Swick had fallen. That outing, for however devastating it was at the time, served as notice for Swick this his two-fight comeback run may not have been as viable of an idea as he first envisioned.
That was back in 2012, though by then these issues were nothing new. Swick's career, years earlier, was derailed by what doctors eventually learned -- after several misdiagnoses -- to be an esophageal spasm. The problem first arose in 2007, then worsened and worsened until Swick was forced out of the sport from early-2010 to mid-2012, a span of over two and a half years. Swick ultimately learned how to mitigate his symptoms through medication, but medication and fighting rarely mix. So when Swick returned for his brief 2012 comeback, the medication stayed behind and the problems arose once more, draining Swick of his fighting life until the night Brown stamped a violent exclamation mark on the career of the TUF 1er.
"It became really clear that I was done unless something changed," Swick admitted on this week's episode of The MMA Hour. "So that was when I kind of hung it up. I didn't officially retire, hoping that something would happen miraculously in the future. But in my mind, I put it to the past and assumed that fighting was going to be over. I couldn't continue to fight with those performances that I had with those two fights, so I was moving on."
So ended the career of Swick, an originator and contender who could never quite put his defining run together -- or at least that's what many assumed. Swick disappeared from the UFC for nearly three years, setting root in Thailand and spearheading the construction of American Kickboxing Academy's world-class foray into the eastern hemisphere.
Then somewhere along the way, something inexplicable happened -- the palm trees and ocean breeze (and water gun wars) of paradise soothed the pugilist's worn-out soul, and now, rather unbelievably, Swick is readying to make his improbable return this summer against Alex Garcia at UFC 189, 945 days after that fateful FOX night.
Even he isn't sure how it happened.
"I just assumed I was not fighting anymore," Swick said. "I assumed my career was over, so I kind of let it go. I think that really helped. I think that was one of the big steps. Trying to force myself back into fighting and putting the pressure on myself and trying to back in the there, I think kind of hurt me somehow. So I started feeling better and weaning myself off the medicine.
"Now I'm completely fine. Like, 100-percent. So I don't really know what really changed as far as specifically how I could get off the medicine this time and not be affected, but whatever it was, it worked."
For a while, Swick wasn't sure whether to take the leap back into cracking skulls. But one trip out to AKA headquarters in San Jose earlier this year when his daughter was born was enough to convince him: "Quick" Swick was back, "and back in a big way."
"I haven't been this healthy in eight years, so it was a great feeling," Swick said. "My whole welterweight career -- I dropped weight because of those issues. So even through the wins I had at welterweight climbing up the ladder, they were all (while I was) dealing with this.
"This is literally the healthiest I've been since I was a middleweight, and even as a middleweight I didn't walk around as big as I am now. So it's a really good feeling. To call Joe Silva and Dana (White), that was a great feeling because I meant it this time, and I know this is going to be a great comeback."
It's not lost on Swick that at 35 years old, his window left in the sport may be waning. Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, and Swick himself are the only three remaining cast members of The Ultimate Fighter 1 to still be fighting in the UFC. With Koscheck potentially retiring following five straight losses, that list may very well become a party of two soon.
"People mention that a lot," Swick acknowledged. "But I'm not trying to outlast anyone. I think I have a good run left, and I'm just going to have fun and go out there. I spent a lot of time getting myself in the position where I could fight in the UFC, and then I had to deal with all of these issues for a good part of my career, the majority of my career. So it's like, now I can actually go out there with no stress.
"There's no title shots, there's no rankings. I'm not worried about anything. I'm literally getting a chance to come back, to fight on one of the biggest cards of the year, and I'm just going to go out there and have fun. Leave it out there and do what I've always wanted to do."