Not as “Quick” as You Think

By Greg Savage Apr 7, 2007
When Mike Swick (Pictures) burst into mixed martial arts fans' consciousness during the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter the experience was life changing for the Texan.

While stardom may have come overnight for Swick, the road that led him there took a number of twists and turns before he arrived at the promised land of reality television.

A native of Houston, Swick will experience a homecoming of sorts when he steps into the Octagon Saturday night. His journey to MMA acclaim began in earnest when he made the trek west to his adopted hometown of San Jose, Calif. in 2001. He traveled there originally in 1998 to try out for the then Frank Shamrock (Pictures)-led American Kickboxing Academy.

Swick was successful in his quest but reconsidered the move to Northern California when he took a peek at his bank statement. With a lucrative offer as a private security contractor on the table, Swick knew he could not pass it up.

The middleweight contender padded his checking account while providing security at the United States Embassy construction site in Moscow before deciding it was time to seek out MMA success in the Golden State.

After finally getting settled in San Jose, Swick set out to fulfill his goal of ascending the ranks of the then-obscure sport. While he credits his move to AKA as a turning point in his career it was by no means the beginning.

The man known for fighting like he is double parked outside the arena amassed a 19-2 amateur record before heading west. With a wealth of experience under his belt, Swick realized he needed to take his training to the next level and AKA provided that for him and his growing skill set.

"Definitely, the move to AKA was one of the smartest things I have ever done in my career," reflected Swick. "The level of training is amazing; it's really moved me up in my career."

That career will be facing one of its sternest tests Saturday night at UFC 69 when Swick (10-1-0) takes on Japanese import Yushin Okami (Pictures) in a middleweight contender bout. Okami (19-3-0) has thrived since coming to the UFC, winning each of his three fights and setting up a showdown with Swick that will deliver a first UFC loss for one of the fighters.

"Yushin Okami (Pictures) is no joke," said a revved up Swick before a March training session. "He is a legitimate opponent and that's why I'm training so hard for this fight."

One of Swick's concerns leading into this fight is Okami's propensity to avoid engaging early. He noted watching Okami's fight against Alan Belcher (Pictures), when Belcher was forced to literally chase Okami around the ring during the first round or two. Swick and his trainers have game planned for that situation and feel confident they will be able to engage.

"If he wants to circle away, away, away I'm just going to cut the cage off on him," declared a defiant Swick. "I don't care if I have to go right into his power, I will pressure him right from the start."

The man putting that plan together for Swick, as always, is AKA's head MMA trainer Lynn Schutz. Swick is quick to credit Schutz, as well as his other coaches Javier Mendez, Dave Camarillo and Bob Cook, for sculpting the aggressive style that has him exploding his way towards the front of the line of a deep UFC middleweight division.

He also never fails to mention the room full of top-level talent that makes up the prestigious AKA fight team. With guys like Jon Fitch (Pictures), Josh Koscheck (Pictures), Phil Baroni (Pictures), Bobby Southworth (Pictures), Josh Thomson (Pictures), Cain Velasquez (Pictures) and Paul Buentello (Pictures), Swick is never at a loss for good training partners.

They have been putting Swick and Koscheck, who fights Diego Sanchez (Pictures) on the same card, through their paces in preparations for their pivotal bouts. It will be Swick's first time back in the Octagon since his September decision win over David Loiseau (Pictures). In that fight Swick suffered ligament damage in his left hand, which necessitated a nearly seven-month layoff.

It also prevented a fight he wanted for a long time. Swick was slated to fight his nemesis Chris Leben (Pictures) - the only man to defeat him professionally - in December but was unable to due to his injured hand. It is a fight that Swick would love but it's probably not in the cards at the moment since Leben was choked unconscious by Jason McDonald.

"There's no one else I really want to fight more than him," remarked Swick. "I am definitely looking forward to fighting him one day and I hope it's gonna happen. But I am trying to move ahead in my career and, you know, that fight doesn't do anything as far as I'm concerned."

Their rivalry hit its crescendo on the premier season of TUF when Leben never failed to bring up his knockout win over Swick. Despite the tension in the reality show house, Swick understands the impact the show had on the world of MMA and realizes that along with making him a star it propagated the meteoric rise of the sport itself.

"I thinks it's a huge honor being a part of the, I guess the big boom of our sport," said Swick. "I think it's a significant piece of the growth of what this sport's become."

He also credits his TUF experience as the springboard to his UFC career. His dream, since watching his first UFC, was to fight in the storied Octagon and although it was a trying six weeks it turned that dream into a reality.

"It gave me my entry into the UFC because, you know, it had always been my dream. And so that was the biggest thing it did for me," explained a grateful Swick. "It also gave me the opportunity to come to the UFC and do what I've done since then and that's be a UFC fighter."

The next dream to fulfill is fighting for the UFC middleweight title. Although it seems that goal will have to be postponed for the foreseeable future - Nathan Marquardt (Pictures) is scheduled to face champion Anderson Silva in July and former champ Rich Franklin (Pictures) looks to be next in line if he defeats Martin Kampmann (Pictures) - Swick is focused and knows he has to keep winning to finally get his shot.

"Right now I'm not even focused on [a title shot] because I know I have a tough fight ahead of me," said the motivated middleweight contender. "I know my next fight isn't going to be for the title so I'm just focusing on Yushin Okami (Pictures) and not worrying about it. I've got to make sure that I put on a good performance so when the time comes I will get a title shot."

In the meantime his only goal is to keep on winning against the best guys available for him to fight. The need to test himself is apparent when asked about his immediate plans.

"I want to fight top level competition - Yushin Okami (Pictures), Nathan Marquardt (Pictures), Rich Franklin (Pictures), Anderson Silva - all these guys are the level I want to fight. And so, you know, until something happens and I find out I don't belong there but until then I feel that I do and I want to fight those guys."

He will get another chance to show he belongs when he makes his way to the cage in his hometown Saturday night. And before all his friends and family, the very people he always told he would make it, Swick will attempt to climb another rung on the ladder to the pinnacle of the sport.
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