It's been 17 months since we last saw UFC staple, Mike Swick in the Octagon. A veteran of the very first Ultimate Fighter season, he's one of the last of a small handful of fighters left with an active contract from that era. Plagued with injuries and a chronic, debilitating esophageal illness that had been misdiagnosed, he lost a couple years of optimal health, which no doubt factored in to some unfortunate losses in the cage.
These days, Mike has been living the good life, having relocated to Phuket, Thailand to oversee the construction of his dream, AKA Thailand, a super gym that is about 1 week away from completion. His health issues are a thing of the past, and where he once walked around at an unhealthy, almost sickly 170 pounds, he is now a strapping 215 pounds, training daily, and biding his time to a training camp for his own return to action.
In a recent interview with MMA Sentinel Radio, Swick gave details on the new AKA gym, his health, estimated return to UFC activity, and recounted the golden era of MMA sponsorship and the impact TUF can have on up and coming fighters. He also very kindly provided a 50 picture photo gallery and some training videos for our readers to check out. Here's what he had to say in this broad scope interview:
A Dream Realized
This gym is my baby. I've been working toward putting together a gym here for quite a while, and my dreams and aspirations for what I wanted just got bigger and finally, we just built it. It's my dream gym and it's what I think would be a perfect fight camp. I'm trying to put all the elements together to make it a one stop shop for everything you would need to prepare for a fight or attain your fitness goals. We have a two story fitness building, a 5000 square foot Muay Thai facility with a mountain backdrop, the big MMA building...there's a lot to do.
I've been with AKA for 12 years and I'll be with them forever, so it's a great fit for all of us. I partnered up with Javier Mendez, and we built what's probably going to end up being the biggest, craziest AKA gym ever. When the showroom is done, it's going to be a shrine to AKA with fight posters, photos, magazine articles...it will be a testament to what a successful, dedicated team can do.
A Permanent Move
I live here permanently now, I moved here. I visit America now [laughs]. I've been here since the beginning and I've worked on every single part of this project. From concept to design to construction, I've had my hands in all of it. I'm heavily involved in the business end, to handling the trainers and curriculum and matching everything up. It's a lot to do, and it requires a permanent commitment.
Now, we're training and for the last few months, we've been running fight camps. I'm training, running the gym, planning the next phase of the construction; it's full time, and I can't be gone from here for very long.
All photos in this gallery are courtesy of Mitch Viquez / AKA Thailand
Running the Printshop from Thailand
It can occasionally be hard to run an American business from here, but I have good people in place that keep my print shop (based in San Jose) running smoothly. I've had to do very minimal work, as far as that goes, so I've put all my energy and focus on AKA Thailand. I'm so appreciative of the staff I have because they've done an amazing job.
Of course you miss things, but who cares? This is an amazing place. Living in California and training for the UFC, your life is so busy, and can be very high stress sometimes. When I came here to work on this project, it has been the least amount of stress I've had in my life. That mixed with the healthy food and the tropical environment and just the amount of amazing things you can do on this island, it's not only the perfect place to train, it's the perfect place to live.
A Return To Action
I've always hoped I would have something great after fighting, and this gym is it. I'm not saying that I'm done with fighting, but obviously that time is coming. There's nothing I'd rather do more than run this place and train fighters. It's just perfect.
I don't really have a time-table set for my return to fighting. I've been trying to get this place finished and be involved in the fight camps. I'm training at full tilt right now because of all the fight camps that have been coming in. I'm actually in great shape now and have been able to take care of a couple little nagging injuries. Once this place is open with no more construction, I'll be able to focus on a full fight camp for myself.
I'm walking at about 215 right now, and when I come back, it'll be at 185. It's amazing right now. I went out to Cedars Sinai, which is one of the best clinics in the world, and they put me on some calcium channel blockers and some other medicine. It's not ideal for fighting and for fight camp, but as far as everything else I'm doing in life, it works great.
I've been able to start eating again, whatever I want, and I don't have to be as picky as I was for the last 7 years, where basically, I was barely eating anything and walking around at 170 pounds. Between being able to eat an enormous amount of food, and being able to eat before bed, I've been able to put the weight back on.
Also, I've got to mention coconut water. I stand by that. I swear to God, it's changed my life. I usually run through about 30-35 fresh coconuts a week. I keep my refrigerator packed with them. We'll spend 30-45 minutes cracking them all open and draining the water into 2 liter containers, and I drink them 2 liters at a time.
It's crazy, but I use coconut oil for cooking, I put it on my skin, and I drink coconut water. I live by the stuff. It's about keeping the body alkaline. When the body is alkaline, a lot of diseases and illnesses can't survive in that environment. I'm never sick anymore. I feel healthy and energized. It's done wonders for me, honestly.
You know, where we are is the middle of this lush tropical island, and one thing you don't see very often is cows, but they have beef and dairy here. Anyway, come to find out, there's cows not far from the gym, so every once in a while, a cow will wander out this way. We have monkeys out here all the time. I mean, we've brought in all kinds of stuff to the gym, just having some fun.
On this island, the amount of things you can see and do is beyond belief. You can come here for two weeks and have a lifetime of experiences. There's elephant trekking, all kinds of interactions with monkeys, there's a tiger kingdom where you can go and pet and hang out with tigers from all sizes; babies all the way to gigantic tigers, and they're not sedated or anything. They've been raised by humans and are used to it. It's just crazy the things this island has to offer in the way of life experiences.
Blueprint for Success
I've been coming to Thailand since 2000, for 14 years, and every gym I've trained at has become a huge part of my career, and I remember every experience, good or bad, and it helped me become the fighter that I am. There's just something about being here; you go to the Muay Thai fights and hang out with the people and you realize it's very much a fight culture.
You see how dedicated these guys are in their training, especially the kids. They're 8 or 10 years old, training like pros. It's truly amazing. Being here has been very important for me and my career, experiencing this culture and being engulfed in it, so having a gym here is perfect.
Bringing in all the other aspects, the BJJ training, wrestling, strength & conditioning...everything that would make it the most ideal MMA destination is what we strive for here. When you get it all to come together, the people will come. This is the mecca for fitness and fighting, probably in the entire world. More people fly to this island for fight training and fitness than any other place on earth.
With the amount of gyms and fitness centers here, it really is the mecca, and I'm just trying to create the heart, the core, the place that has everything and can cater to the most amount of people, and make them a success, whether it be in fitness or fighting.
When it comes time for me to retire, in my post career, I want to live vicariously through these guys. Since these gyms were such a big part of my life, it's very important to me to have a place that's going to be a big part of someone else's life. We have guys flying in from all around the world, and it's so cool to see them excited to come here to train. We're working on launching some new careers from here and we'll be following their journeys, as well.
For me, the success is not so much monetary as it is the impact on lives. That's my idea of true success, how you impact other people. It doesn't matter how many cars or planes you have, it's about how many people you can help along the way.
We haven't paid for any marketing. We've done Facebook and Twitter social media stuff, and all the people that come out are doing the social media stuff on their own, too. It's basically just a domino effect from word of mouth.
We do plan to market and put some billboards up once this thing is all finished with construction, which will be in about another week, so people can see what we've built. We have so many Top 10 stars, when people walk in and see what a successful team can do, and what hard work and dedication can do, I think it's motivating to them.
I've been here for a long time, and I've seen everything. It's not like doing business in America, that's for sure. You have to surround yourself with the right people and you have to be very cautious. Where we are is an extremely safe environment, though.
I know there were some struggles between the gyms in the past, but right now, everything is great. Business is booming and there are plenty of people at all the gyms. It's a very safe place to train, vacation or live permanently.
Tourism is one of the biggest revenue sources for Thailand. Bringing people here is big for the economy, so they appreciate the people that are building the gyms and businesses that are bringing the tourists in and creating job opportunities for the local population.
Because of this project, we put up a very expensive power transformer that not only provides electricity for us, but for several families and businesses on the road we're on. We've also provided a much better water drainage system for the area, too.
People rally to support you and take part in the projects when there's positive gain for everyone. It's a win-win for all of us. It's been really, really good.
Wear & Tear From Fights
I haven't had too many crazy wars that I took a lot of damage in. Most of the injuries I've had have occurred in training. I've had a lot of injuries, and am for sure the most injury prone guy from Season 1, which is why I've been with the UFC this long and only had 14 fights, but fortunately, I didn't take that much damage through the fights themselves.
Okami was probably the worst I've ever been beat on, and it wasn't that bad. I don't know I haven't broken my nose, that's the shocking thing. My wife, I broke her nose on accident with the baby just a few weeks ago. She was holding the baby and I was playing with her, she jolted backwards laughing and cracked my wife's nose.
She's bleeding all over the place and says to me, ‘Oh my God, tell me what to do', and without thinking, I said, ‘I don't know, I've never had a broken nose.' She's like, ‘I can't believe this. I can't believe you've never had a broken nose.' [Laughs} Well me either. Watch, we're going to have an interview after my next fight, and it's just going to be shattered [laughs].
Golden Era of Sponsor $$
Just to put it into perspective, around the time I fought Marcus Davis, I have 3 fights, back to back, where my shorts and shirts were netting me over $60,000 each fight. From that point to the most recent fights, where I was fighting on FOX, on the biggest stage, it was drastically different, probably because of the economy.
When The Ultimate Fighter had that big boom in the beginning, it was very important for people to get their name out there on those shorts and shirts. It really was the golden age and everyone was making really good money. Unfortunately, there are fewer sponsors and many more fights, so the money gets spread around pretty thin. It would be amazing if guys could make as much from sponsor money as they do from fights.
Young Fighters Finding Success Via TUF vs Without TUF
I think both ways can work. I would always say that if you have an opportunity to be on TUF, do it. That's your platform to make a statement and a name for yourself. Most of the guys that do well, whether they win or not, will get that UFC shot.
When I was coming up, it was easier to make a name for yourself because the roster wasn't that big and there weren't as many fights. Now, you have so many talented guys coming through and tons of cards. You really have to do something to stand out if you want to be successful. TUF can be that vehicle for these guys. Every time your name is out there, it sticks with somebody. To be seen that extra bit, it counts.
I'm so grateful for the 14 fights I've had in the UFC, and to come from high school where I became a fan of the sport with my friends...I was so pumped up watching Vitor Belfort come on the scene and then telling people that one day, I would be doing the same thing. I feel really blessed and appreciative of the career I've had. I wish I could have done more in my fights over the last seven years, but I gave it my all and it's been a great experience.
You can follow Mike via his Twitter account, @OfficialSwick