When Mike Swick faces DaMarques Johnson at UFC on FOX 4 in Los Angeles this Saturday, it will have been 21/2 years since he last stepped foot inside the octagon.
Prior to his 30-month hiatus, the Ultimate Fighter Season 1 cast member was a UFC welterweight mainstay. After winning his first four bouts at 170 pounds, he was only a victory away from challenging champion Georges St. Pierre, but lost a unanimous decision to Dan Hardy at UFC 105 on Nov. 14, 2009.
Following a submission loss to Paulo Thiago at UFC 109 three months later, Swick began the most trying stretch of his professional MMA career.
“I’m proud of myself for pushing forward, getting through it and being here today,” Swick said over the phone. “It was an ultimate test for me. It tested every resolve I had. It was so much easier to quit, give up, or assume I couldn’t deal with it. The fact that I did it and persevered makes me happy.”
Swick’s woes actually began while preparing for a middleweight bout against Yushin Okami in 2007.
One night he awoke with an intense, searing pain across his chest. The attacks continued and he was later misdiagnosed with dyspepsia, a stomach ailment. In an attempt to combat the condition, he immediately cut back on his food consumption. Since his new diet made it difficult to retain muscle mass, he proceeded to drop to welterweight.
But the problem persisted and Swick finally discovered he was actually suffering from an esophageal condition.
“Taking this and that and trying experimental treatments like shooting botox into my esophagus was just rough,” Swick said. “Finally I got diagnosed with the right thing, which is esophageal spasm. It’s different in every person, so everyone has a different level of it. So me being a professional athlete and having to eat so many calories to stay in fight camp and keep my health — it was a very unique situation.
“The doctors couldn’t really do much for it. They basically said, ‘This is what you have. These are the kinds of foods that you can’t eat. Good luck trying to find all the nutrients, vitamins and proteins that you need to compete at the level you’re competing at.’ ”
In order to get both his life and career back on track, Swick spent 12 months researching and experimenting with different foods to formulate a comprehensive diet. He admitted he often questioned if he would ever return to the cage.
“That was the year where I was working to get everything down to where I could be an athlete again — and it worked,” Swick said. “It was tough. At the beginning of that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to be a fighter at all.”
With his condition under control, Swick was set to return against Brazilian standout Erick Silva at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro one year ago.
As it turned out, his hardships weren’t over yet.
“I went through a whole fight camp and felt great,” Swick said. “Then a week before, I was about to leave for the fight, I blew out my knee — ACL, MCL and meniscus.
“I got everything done and then got set back in a whole different way. It's one of the worst injuries you can have.”
With all that ugliness now behind him, Swick said he can’t wait to reintroduce himself to MMA fans by putting Johnson away in impressive fashion.
“It’s a new beginning,” Swick began. “I’ve changed a lot since my last fight, but I’m still the same style of fighter as far as being aggressive, in-your-face and wanting to get the knockout. This is going to be a way to showcase the new things I’ve been working on.
“He’s definitely going to play into that because he’s an aggressive fighter, as well. That's always been my best type of opponent. My best opponents have been aggressive fighters, who have brought the fight to me.”
Swick said he hopes his showing Saturday night inspires others to fight through their ailments.
“There are a lot of people that suffer from similar situations,” Swick said. “It’s tough just to get by with this, let alone formulate a diet where you can train as hard as we do. For me to come back and fight at a level like this, for the UFC on FOX, and have a good performance, I think it will give a lot of hope to those people to push forward, as well.”
MORE T.O. BOUTS IN THE CARDS
Two more fights have been added to the UFC’s Toronto return.
Brazilian standout Charles Oliveira will take on former WEC featherweight Cub Swanson. Also, Dan Miller will look to go 2-0 since dropping to welterweight when he meets hometown fighter Sean Pierson.
QMI Agency confirmed the bookings with UFC officials Wednesday afternoon.
Oliveira is undefeated since dropping to 145 pounds, earning consecutive submission victories over Eric Wisely and Jonathan Brookins. Meanwhile, Swanson’s last two appearances saw him pick up back-to-back TKO wins over Ross Pearson and George Roop.
After years in the UFC middleweight division, Miller submitted Ricardo Funch in his 170-pound debut in June.
Pierson’s last outing saw him snap a two-fight losing skid, winning an entertaining unanimous decision over Jake Hecht at UFC on FX 3 on June 8.
HOMINICK RETURN SET
Former UFC featherweight title challenger Mark Hominick will return against Pablo Garza at UFC 154 in Montreal.
QMI Agency confirmed the booking with UFC officials Wednesday afternoon.
Hominick lost an exciting unanimous decision to 145-pound champion Jose Aldo at UFC 129 in Toronto last year, netting him fight of the night honours. Unfortunately the Thamesford, Ont. native has struggled since, suffering a rapid-fire KO loss to Chan Sung Jung in December, before losing a close split decision to Eddie Yagin four months later.
Garza took home submission of the night at UFC 129 for his flying triangle choke against Yves Jabouin. However, he has since lost to Dennis Bermudez and Dustin Poirier.
Also at UFC 154, TriStar Gym middleweight Francis Carmont will meet Tom Lawlor.
Carmont looks to earn his fourth straight UFC victory, having bested Karlos Vemola, Magnus Cedenblad and Chris Camozzi in his first three appearances.
Lawlor’s last outing saw him pick up a 50-second KO over Jason MacDonald in May.
FITCH EYES REDEMPTION
A pair of interesting welterweight bouts have been slotted for UFC 153.
Former 170-pound title challenger Jon Fitch will meet Erick Silva, while Rick Story is set to take on Demian Maia.
Fitch’s last outing saw him suffer a 12-second knockout at the hands of Johny Hendricks in December. The loss ended his six-fight undefeated streak since dropping a unanimous decision to Georges St. Pierre four years ago.
Silva bounced back from a controversial DQ loss to Carlo Prater with a stunning first-round submission victory over Charlie Brenneman in June.
Meanwhile, Story won a unanimous decision over Brock Jardine at UFC on FX 4 June 22, snapping a two-fight losing skid in the process. Maia made a successful welterweight debut last month, securing a first-round TKO victory over Dong Hyun Kim after Kim suffered a rib injury.
UFC 153 takes place Oct. 13 in Rio de Janeiro and will be headlined by a featherweight title fight between Jose Aldo and Erik Koch. Also on the card, Alan Belcher meets Vitor Belfort and Quinton (Rampage) Jackson takes on Glover Teixeira.
ALESSIO AT A LOSS
John Alessio has been cut by the UFC again.
The Vancouver lightweight’s most recent UFC stint saw him lose consecutive unanimous decisions to Shane Roller and Toronto’s Mark Bocek.
Alessio told MMA Junkie that he’s still frustrated over his defeat to Roller.
“I’m super upset,” he said. “I worked so long and so hard to get back, and the UFC always puts all this pressure on you about being exciting, so I tried to change my style up to be crowd-pleasing.
“But then I get an opponent in my last fight, where … he just chose to hold me down to win the fight, and it’s just depressing that that gets rewarded when all they talk about is exciting fights.”
Though Alessio doesn’t deny he lost both fights, he figured he’d get at least one more opportunity.
“I really thought that I’d be spending more than a couple of months of 2012 in the UFC,” he said. “I thought I’d get one more shot. I don’t know where I should go or what my options are.”