Image Courtesy of Esther Lin of MMA Fighting
Imagine spending much of your career with an unknown, debilitating illness. One that sends spasms and shooting pains through your chest, and makes the simple act of eating a painful experience. Training for a fight becomes an exercise in mental fortitude, just to get through the sessions. This is how Mike Swick went through much of his career. After seeing several physicians and getting nowhere, he finally was properly diagnosed with esophageal spasms. Now, after a two and a half year layoff, the quick one is preparing to re-enter the octagon again on Saturday. In a recent interview with TapouT Radio, he discussed his big comeback, and sets the record straight about his fight with Yushin Okami.
*Note: Interviewer is either my co-host, Evan Shoman of TapouT Radio, or myself. When I don't conduct these interviews by myself, I just put "Interviewer" to eliminate having to bounce back and forth between three different names.
Interviewer: You've been out for such an extended period of time, so can we correctly assume that you're finally 100%?
Mike Swick: I'm still dealing with it, but now I have it under control. I can get all the nutrients that I need to compete. For years I was being misdiagnosed and told to take this medicine or that medicine, or this experimental treatment or that one. I had no real answer, because this condition is unique to the individual. My doctor's had never had this kind of problem with a professional athlete.
When I was finally diagnosed correctly, the doctor was like, 'This is what you have. You have esophageal spasms. Good luck getting all the nutrients that you need, considering you can't have this, this, this or this.' It was literally a year of researching on my own, testing, trial runs to get the stuff that I need without running into stuff that would affect my esophagus. Now, I got it down to a science.
Now, I'm eating extremely healthy and I feel amazing. I'm in better shape and just feel better than I've ever felt in my career. I have the issue, but it's very, very minute and my diet and my health is great. I think it will show in this fight. I just feel so much better. I'm eating stuff I can't even pronounce [laughs]. As a middleweight, I just ate anything. I mean, I tried to cut the fats out before fights, and stuff like that, but nothing was ever this scientific.
Interviewer: It seems like you don't really have a choice but to stay at welterweight, considering your body can only handle so much. Is going back to middleweight pretty much an impossibility at this point?
Mike Swick: I think so. My condition could eventually lessen, or even go away at some point. It's been heard of wehre people have beaten this thing to where it's completely gone, but the thing is, even if it goes completely away, now that I have this lifestyle, I'm never gonna go back to how I was before. I'll still eat the way I am now, which lets me walk around between 180 and 185.
Interviewer: With you being on such a strict diet, and basically getting exactly what you need, what do you think your cut will be like?
Mike Swick: I'm not really cutting that much now. It's not going to be a bad cut. It's just water. It's not that much.
Interviewer: These days, all the divisions have fighters that walk heavy, cut tons of weight, and then come into the octagon having gained 15-20 pounds after weigh-ins. You'll be much closer to target weight than most. How do you think the strength factor will stack up against these much bigger guys?
Mike Swick: I'm stronger right now than I have ever been at welterweight. I was walking around at weight when I fought Dan Hardy and Paulo Thiago. For those fights, I was cutting very minimal. It wasn't the diet I have now. It was pure malnutrition, because I was on medicines, and I would have a reaction to foods. My throat would spasm, I wouldn't eat or get any sleep. I was pretty much severely malnourished in those fights. Now, I'm healthy, and for sure, the strongest I've ever been at welterweight. I walk around about the same exact size as when I fought Yushin Okami, except my diet is better and I'm much healthier.
Interviewer: During the Yushin Okami fight, after the first round, you went back to your corner and said, 'Dude, he's strong.' Do you think it would be a different story these days, with where you're at in your conditioning and overall health?
Mike Swick: You know, that's misinterpreted. He's the only guy that I've ever fought that I thought was stronger than me. People thought when I said that, that I was like, caving in. First of all, I didn't know it was gonna be on camera, and second of all, I was talking to my cornerman, and we had a specific strategy for that fight. I was letting him know, in the only way I knew how, that our gameplan was out the window, as far as out-muscling him from the clinch. I've always felt really good in the strength area, so when we went into this fight, we thought I'd be way stronger than him.
I was letting Bob Cook know that he was strong and that I wasn't going to be able to fight out of the clinch, and push him and do the things that we were supposed to do. People thought I was mentally broken or something, which has never happened. If you look at round two of that fight, right after I said that, I go out and I win the round. I almost finished the fight. It frustrates me when people say, 'Oh, he was giving up. He was cracking.' If I was cracking, I wouldn't have gone out there and beat him the second round. I had his head down on the canvas, punching him when the bell rang. That was the best round of the fight, and it was specifically because I gave Bob the info and we formulated a new gameplan. In the third, I just couldn't stop the takedown. Once he got me down, he was so strong, he held me down and got the third round.
I'm sorry, but that's a sensitive point because I've heard that so many times. People are so quick to say that you break. Tell me one time I've ever broke. I didn't even tap when Paulo choked me out. I will never weaken against anyone. Ever.
I feel good in the strength department now. I think your mentality going into these fights, it's always overlooked. I think it's one of the most important things. I think it's like 99% mental. I've seen such great athletes, that were so strong, so fast, so explosive, but they were just mental midgets, and they couldn't get in there and fight. They looked horrible. They never had a career. A lot of people put so much emphasis on strength, but AI think your mentality is very important. It's not just strength. Yes, I do feel strong at this weight, but mentally, I feel like I'm on a different level, as well. I'm happy. I'm excited to be going out there.
Interviewer: Do you think the rangy build of Damarques Johnson will cater more to your style than say a short, compact fighter like Mike Pierce?
Mike Swick: I don't know. I'll let you know on Sunday. The guys I trained with for this camp are long like he is, actually, a little bit longer. I don't really think a specific reach caters to my style. It just depends on what he does with it, how he comes at me, and how aggressive he is. We've taken that into consideration and worked on every way we think he'll try to come out and attack, and come up with a plan to try to counter it.
You can follow Mike via his Twitter, @OfficialSwick