Bad situations: An interview exclusive with Mike Swick


Since entering the UFC on the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Mike Swick has been on a quest to capture a world title — a journey that’s required a great deal of sacrifice.

After moving up in weight to secure a spot as a light heavyweight on TUF, Swick debuted in the UFC by living up to his nickname "Quick" — earning a 20-second knockout of fellow contestant Alex Schoenauer at the TUF 1 Finale in April 2005.

He then dropped back down to middleweight and created fits for his 185 opponents, earning three more first round stoppages before out-pointing former number one contender David Louiseau at UFC 63: "Hughes vs. Penn" in September 2006.

A hard-fought unanimous decision loss to perennial contender Yushin Okami — the only blemish on Swick’s record since 2004 and his first loss inside the Octagon — led to his decision to drop again in weight, this time to 170 pounds, despite the fact that the move (at the time) was from a significantly thinner division to arguably the most stacked division in MMA.

Facing criticism for the move, Swick proved his doubters wrong, earning the judges’ nods over Josh Burkman and Marcus Davis, before making "Quick" work of Jonathan Goulet and, most recently, Ben Saunders at UFC 99: "The Comeback" in June of this year.

His 9-1 run inside the Octagon earned him a shot at the title, provided he could first best fellow slugger Martin Kampmann, a dangerous Thai boxer coming out of the Xtreme Couture camp. It was scheduled for this Saturday’s UFC 103: "Franklin vs. Belfort" in Dallas, Texas, Swick’s home state.

The fight had all the makings of an all-out war, with the winner being granted a title shot against reigning welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. But a concussion suffered at the end of his training camp forced Swick off the card. It was a devastating blow to the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product.

With Kampmann now slated to face British rising talent Paul "Semtex" Daley — which will not be for a title shot — Swick has been left in a state of limbo as he recovers from his concussion. Physically, he’ll be ready to fight as early as October; however, the UFC has been busy trying to book the remaining cards in its 2009 schedule.

With no known number one contender in store for GSP, and with qualifier match-up currently scheduled, Swick is forced to wait until something, or someone, becomes available.

We caught up with Swick to ask him if he’s heard from the UFC about what’s next in store for the welterweight division’s title picture, see how his recovery is going and to find out who he’d like to fight next, assuming he could land on a card later this year.

And yes, he mentioned Matt Hughes.

Let’s get to it.

Adam Wagner ( First, I was sorry to hear about the injury. The Kampmann fight had all the makings of a fantastic fight. How devastated were you to learn you’d have to pull out of the fight?

Mike Swick: Ah, pretty devastated, man. It meant a lot to me to fight in Texas and to fight in front of the Texas fans, not to mention that I really wanted to fight Kampmann and it was a great fight. I was very excited about it.

I trained really hard. I trained for about 12 or 14 weeks for this fight — pretty much ever since the Saunders fight. So it sucks when you go through all that, you’re excited, you go through medicals, you’re getting everything set up, and then you have to cancel that close to the fight.

Adam Wagner ( It’s my understanding that you were tripped up while sparring and hit the back of your head against the mat pretty hard. Can you walk us through what happened?

Mike Swick: Yeah, I was sparring, and I got leg-swept, and the way I was angled, my legs just flew up and I landed on the back of my head right on my neck/head area on the bottom of the ring. It jarred me pretty good.

Adam Wagner ( So did you have to go see a physician who refused to clear you for the fight, or did he just recommend that you not do that?

Mike Swick: Well right after, I kept sparring. I sparred two more rounds.

Adam Wagner ( Oh, gee.

Mike Swick: I never even had a concussion before — I didn’t really know or experience a concussion before — so I sparred two more rounds. And then immediately following sparring, I noticed that a headache was coming on pretty serious, and then I got really nauseous, so I was throwing up.

You know, when it’s your head, you don’t really play around. So Javier (Mendez), my head instructor, called in a specialist to come in and check me out. She diagnosed me with a stage 2 traumatic brain injury concussion … They told me that they didn’t recommend me fighting …

I had two doctors check me out. I went and got another (opinion), because I wanted to keep fighting. I kept training. I wanted to fight, I wanted to try to get through it.

Seeing the doctors — as far as someone wanting to fight — it didn’t really help seeing a doctor, because they’re definitely not going to want to be responsible and let you fight. But on the flip side, they were right. When you have an issue like this, it’s probably not good to get punched in the head a bunch of times.

Adam Wagner ( (Laughs) Yeah.

Mike Swick: They started explaining the long-term damage and the seriousness of it, and it sounded pretty serious. Again, I’ve had no experience with having a concussion. I’ve never had one before. So, I didn’t know much about it. But they made it sound pretty bad if I got hit again.

So I ended up training still and seeing if it would work out, and seeing how I felt each day. The headache lasted for like a week, on and off for like a good week. I still don’t feel … here and there 100%. I’ll still get that foggy kind of weird-head feeling, headaches here and there.

I got another opinion from another doctor, who also gave the recommendation to not fight. They basically said, they’re recommending me not to fight, but if I chose to … pretty much, in other words, if I chose to go against them and fight anyway, it would kind of be their legal responsibility to make a statement that they didn’t clear me.

Adam Wagner ( Sure.

Mike Swick: It got to the point where it was evidently clear that I’m not going to be able to fight. Because even if I was to push through and train all the way to the fight and show up in Texas, it’s going to get out to the commission that I had a concussion and wasn’t going to get cleared, and they’d stop it right there.

There’s no way the Texas commission would let me fight if they knew that. So I’d have to basically lie to them. And then of course, the two doctors I’ve already seen who feel responsible would say something. So it just all became apparent when we called the UFC that it’s just not going to happen, there’s just no way. All it takes is for one of them to make a call.

It would be even more problematic for the UFC and for the fight card if I kept it on the DL all the way to the event and then canceled like a day or two in advance and then (Kampmann) wouldn’t have an opponent.

Even though it’s a bad situation now, it’s a bad situation for me, but it would be a lot worse situation for everyone else if we waited. So we went ahead, and (AKA manager) Bob Cook told (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva about it and made the decision to pull me from the fight.

Adam Wagner ( So has the UFC told you what they plan to do about the title shot situation? I mean obviously Kampmann isn’t fighting for the title shot now that he has a different opponent. Have they explained to you at all what’s going to happen with that?

Mike Swick: They haven’t explained anything to me. No. I haven’t really contacted them too much. I’ve been kind of doing my own thing, just trying to get my mind off of everything.

It’s pretty depressing when you train so hard, you really want to fight bad, it’s your home state, all your friends and family are there, and then you gotta back out. So I feel bad because I wanted to fight for the fans, I wanted to fight in general, and I think it was a great match-up.

Obviously the reward for winning is huge, but I also felt bad for the UFC. They advertised the fight a lot and put a lot into it … and then obviously for Kampmann too. He prepared for me for 10, 11 weeks or whatever, and then I backed out, and he had to get a new opponent.

So not only do I feel bad for myself, I feel bad for all the problems that it’s caused. I’m just trying to get my mind off of it and working in my shop here in San Jose, a couple days, just relaxing, staying up with cardio before I head back to the gym and get ready for my next fight.

Adam Wagner ( There was talk online that you had stated that you would be ready to go as early as 104 or 105. Do you know what’s next for you in terms of a potential match-up?

Mike Swick: Yeah, if there was any possibility of being on the October card, I would have been ready. I’m in great shape now. I took almost a week off and just did a little bit of cardio and just rested my body — not only for my head, but my body has been pretty beat up from training too from this amount of time. So I’m giving it the adequate rest.

I’m going to start back training again this week, and then full on next week. If I were for sure going to be able to fight in October, I’d be back full-throttle and going at it, I’d be totally ready for that fight and in great shape.

But the way it’s looking, I’d be lucky if I got on November or December’s card. So I just have to focus on my technique and wait to hear. I really hope something comes soon, because I’d like to know who and when I’m fighting.

Adam Wagner ( Is that because the cards are getting booked up already, or is there another reason? I mean the fight cards from the looks of things seem to be filling up pretty quickly. There are a few slots left that haven’t been confirmed in November and December, but obviously the UFC has probably been working to fill those slots since before your injury.

Mike Swick: Yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff like that. That’s the thing, man, the cards are just filled up. I know Joe Silva, like you said … if I can’t fight, I can’t fight. He’ll put me in as soon as he can, but he doesn’t know.

The cards are filled up. He books those cards so far in advance. Even though there’s some fighters that don’t seem to have opponents, maybe they’re working opponents out for them, they’ve already kind of verbally agreed, I don’t know.

It’s hard to say who’s really available. I mean from the looks of it, it looks like Hughes is available. He’s signed a six-fight deal and hasn’t booked a fight yet. So I’m really hoping he’s available, and I’m really hoping the UFC calls any day now and asks me to fight Hughes.

Adam Wagner ( Well that’s something else that I had read. You’ve expressed interest in this fight for a while now, as has your teammate, Josh Koscheck. I spoke with Koscheck a couple days ago*, and I asked that question: why hasn’t the UFC approached any of the AKA guys about a potential Matt Hughes fight, considering so many of them seem to be interested in it.

*[Editor’s Note: The Koscheck interview will be posted later this week].

I don’t want to put words in your mouth or anything like that, but do you get the impression that Matt Hughes isn’t interested in this fight?

Mike Swick: (Laughs) What did Koscheck say, I’m curious?

Adam Wagner ( He said … I want to make sure I get this right … he said he doesn’t think that Hughes wants to be a stepping stone for one of the AKA guys. Clearly he expressed confidence that the AKA guys, whoever would be matched up with him — whether it’s you or Koscheck or Fitch — would clearly be winning that fight. So he implied that Hughes was not interested in taking the fight.

Mike Swick: Yeah, I don’t know. I put it out there after the Saunders fight that I really wanted to fight Hughes, and I didn’t hear anything back. After the Saunders fight, in the ring and at the post-fight conference I mentioned Hughes — that I really wanted that fight — (but) they never got back to me about it.

And then it turned out to be Kampmann. You know Kampmann’s not as big of a name as Hughes, but I was excited about the fight. I think he’s a great fighter, and for all the fans who watch the sport, they know who he is, and they know he’s a very tough, dangerous opponent. He’s pretty high ranked, considering his win over Carlos Condit. I was excited about that fight as well.

But yeah, I never got anything back on the Hughes fight. Then again, now it appears that he doesn’t have an opponent, and I don’t have an opponent, and pretty much every welterweight in the UFC is booked right now. I can’t think of hardly any welterweights that don’t have fights coming up that are top ranked. So it just makes perfect sense that we’d fight each other, but I haven’t heard anything back.

I put it out there a few times here and there. You know, I’m not one to pick my opponent, so I feel awkward asking for specific opponents, because that’s Joe Silva’s job, but I want it to be out there that I’m definitely willing to take it and excited about it if it happens.

Adam Wagner ( One quick question about Saunders: Ben Saunders is a pretty big welterweight. I figured going into that fight that his size might present some problems for you, but it didn’t seem to at all. My question is, did his size present any problems for you, and if not, did you use specific training partners who are big guys going into that fight to sort of help you with that?

Mike Swick: You know the size isn’t the issue. I spent my whole career fighting 205 pounders and 185 pounders. The thing about it is, I don’t think there’re any welterweights out there as strong as my training partners.

Me, Fitch and Kos, we train together, and I think we’re stronger than most welterweights out there. It’s not very often that … or it’s never been that we went out there and felt like anyone really out-powered us, especially in the welterweight division.

So I’m used to strong training partners. Aside from Fitch and Kos, I got middleweights and 205-pounders who are really big and strong as well. So we’re kind of used to that in the gym.

So size definitely wasn’t an issue. I think (Saunders’) reach was a little bit with his kicking. He landed a couple good kicks. His legs were pretty long, he could connect with them from pretty far out. I think as far as his length, that made a difference, I think. It gave him an advantage in the kicking aspect.

Adam Wagner ( Well the win over Saunders puts you at a 4-fight win streak, you’re 9-1 inside the Octagon, with six finishes, five of which came in the first round.

When you first decided to drop to welterweight, a lot of people criticized the move — at least online, I don’t know if they said anything to your face — saying that they didn’t think you would be able to compete against the division’s quicker wrestler-types. But now, before the injury, you were getting ready to fight for the number one contender qualifier position.

How did the criticism make you feel at the time, if in fact you were aware of it, and how does it feel now that you’ve legitimized your move to 170?

Mike Swick: Well the criticism came because of the Burkman fight. It was just the timing of that fight. The public doesn’t know a lot of things. There’s a lot of things the public doesn’t know about fighters and what goes into fights and what can happen, and different things that change aspects of fights.

It just happened to be a very bad timing on that one, because it was my very first fight at welterweight. So I think it sent up a bunch of red flags that maybe the move was a bad move and that I wasn’t adjusted to the weight. But it really didn’t have anything to do with that. There was just a lot of other variables that came into play. It was a learning experience, and I became stronger and learned from it.

But as far as the move, I feel absolutely great at 170. I think it’s the best division for me, I feel fast, strong and explosive. I’m almost the same size as I was at middleweight, except now I’m not looking across the ring and fighting guys that are 200 pounds. The guys are actually my size, so it caters to me.

I feel my speed still upholds really well at the lighter weight. It isn’t an issue to where these guys have lightweight speed or anything. My speed still carries over and gives me an advantage in that aspect as well.

It just turned out to be a great move. I’m doing everything I can to prove that I deserve a title shot and that this is the best weight class for me. So I’m just trying to do that with each and every fight that I fight.

Adam Wagner ( Do you expect that you’ll have to face Kampmann one day down the road, whether that’s to get a title shot, or after a title shot. Do you still expect that the UFC one day is going to schedule you with that fight?

Mike Swick: For sure, man. I definitely expect the fight, and I want it, I want to fight all the top guys at welterweight. So unless Kampmann loses to Daley, for sure we’re going to fight somewhere down the line, and that’s what I want. I want to fight all the great guys throughout my career.

But I’ve been plagued with Kampmann. I’ve had to back out twice from an injury.

Adam Wagner ( Against Kampmann?

Mike Swick: I mean I didn’t back out against Kampmann from an injury, but at the beginning of scheduling that fight they wanted it too soon, and I was healing up from a broken foot. So I didn’t back out of the fight, but I just couldn’t take the fight because it was too soon. My foot wouldn’t have time to heal.

So that was the first time (laughs), and then we get scheduled again, and I get through the entire fight camp, and then out of the blue have a concussion for the first time in my life. So it’s kind of like (laughs) I don’t know, it’s like he jinxed me or something.

I don’t know, that’s the only time that’s ever happened where twice I had an opportunity to fight somebody and it didn’t work out both times, and not because either one of us didn’t want to, but because of injuries or concussions and stuff like that. I guess it’s going to be that much better when we actually do make it into the Octagon together.

Adam Wagner ( Both you and Kampmann seem to have such exciting stand-up games — I mean both of you are well-rounded everywhere, but when the fights stay on the feet between the two of you, those seem to be the most exciting fights.

What I find interesting is that George St. Pierre has relied fairly heavily on his wrestling in his recent fights — his ground and pound. We haven’t really seen a lot of the old kickboxing GSP in his recent fights. So I was wondering how you felt a guy like yourself, or even Kampmann, how a fight against GSP would go? Would you expect sort of a sprawl-and-brawl type of fight?

Mike Swick: Well if I fought GSP, I’m quite certain that he would go for the takedown. So it would be avoiding the takedown. I feel like my ground game is good, and I feel very strong in that area, but it’s not the fight I would want as far as fighting Georges St. Pierre. I think the fight that the public wants and the fight that I want obviously is the same, and that’s for us to go out there and bang toe-to-toe.

But I’d obviously have to prepare for GSP going for that takedown. He’s become so good at getting that takedown and timing it, he’s winning fights — he’s winning fights easily — just because he’s timing the takedowns perfectly and taking the guys down, holding them a little bit, getting some ground and pound, and that over and over doing that just wins the fight.

I think that’s why we’re seeing it more because it’s an effective strategy that’s working against everybody and it’s giving him win after win after win. So if we get that fight, we’re going to work on every aspect of avoiding that takedown and mixing things up.

And we might surprise people how we fight him. I got some really good training partners in there, and I train with some really good wrestlers. I don’t have a college wrestling background, but for the past five years, I’ve trained with some of the best wrestlers in the world.

I have a decent takedown defense, I feel it’s one of my strongest aspects. So kinda like in the Burkman fight, avoiding that takedown, I think it’s one of the better attributes I have as far as my defense. I think it would hold up pretty well against Georges St. Pierre.

Adam Wagner ( Okay, last question before I let you go. You’re one of the better fighters when it comes to marketing yourself and understanding the role that merchandising can play. From your Swick-Fu line and your blog, to the "Real Quick with Mike Swick" segments to being a sponsored player on Full Tilt Poker, you’ve established yourself as a well-rounded competitor with crossover appeal.

Obviously this has benefits beyond just getting a good fan base. These steps you take now could lead to bigger gigs down the road, such as a career in broadcasting, or just to secure financially your retirement.

How much are these projects a conscious pursuit to take advantage of your current popularity and get your name out there and market yourself in a variety of ways, versus, say, you just doing whatever comes natural, whatever projects interest you at the time?

Mike Swick: You know, it’s about sacrifice. I’ve sacrificed a good part of my life to get where I am today as far as training and competing and stuff. I’ve given up a lot of weekends, a lot of parties, a lot of drinking, a lot of eating what I want.

I’ve given up a huge part of my life in order to get where I am today. Just because I am where I am and fighting in the UFC and living my dream isn’t a sign to stop and quit sacrificing. So now that I don’t have to work a full-time job and I have a lot more time to dedicate to fighting, I don’t just stop the sacrificing and train my four to six hours a day and then just sleep or watch TV.

I pretty much work from the second I wake up to the second I go to bed. Training consists of about four to six hours a day, and I pretty much spend every other second of the day working on marketing, working on business stuff, promotional stuff.

I think it’s a sacrifice that in the long run will pay off. Just during this last fight camp, I formed two corporations, one for Combat Life, which is a clothing brand that I started, and one is for a screen-printing shop here in San Jose. We’ve actually been building … we have a 4,500-square-foot facility located in downtown San Jose, which is headquartering my clothing line and is a full-fledged screen-printing shop open to the public, which will be open I guess in October.

I formed the corporations, I’ve been working on setting this whole thing up, and I’ve been here pretty much everyday for a month or so building. I’ve been actually helping out, hanging sheet rock, working with the guys, planning and buying furniture and all the equipment.

So it’s the sacrifice that I’m making when I’m young to be able to have the security when I’m older for my kids and my family. So I don’t really have any free time unless I travel. Now that I’ve started this new corporation, I’m probably not even going to be traveling too much.

Adam Wagner ( Well I think that’s great. Guys like you and Couture and Koscheck — he has the Mar Clothing line, of course — it’s guys like that who are really giving a good name to MMA. To all those people who don’t know any better and think that fighters are just thugs or something, you guys are really establishing yourselves as great role models.

Mike Swick: Cool, man. Thanks

Adam Wagner ( Well, Mike, I really appreciate you taking the time, truly I do. I wanted to give you a chance to thank any sponsors.

Mike Swick: Yeah, I’d like to thank all my sponsors and all my fans for the support. All the emails and tweets that have came in since pulling out of the fight have been real supportive and have made it a lot better for me. Again, I’m sorry about backing out of the fight, I know that a lot of people really wanted to see that fight, but I really didn’t have a choice, and all I can do is come back stronger and put on a great performance in the next one.

Please check out my Twitter page, which has all the updates about my new companies, the print shop, the clothing line, all the stuff as far as who my next opponent is, what I’m doing, I’m going to have everything posted on there. So that’s the best way to find out what’s going on with me.

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