Thursday, March 29, 2007

Swick in The Midst of the Middleweight Mix

By Thomas Gerbasi

Mike Swick was on top of the world. Just a few weeks after scoring the biggest win of his mixed martial arts career by outpointing former world title challenger David Loiseau, the middleweight contender was ready and more than willing to take the next step in his career and he wasn’t shy about letting everyone know about it, even if that meant putting his usual laid-back demeanor to the side for one night.

That night was October 14, 2006, and the shock of Anderson Silva’s dominating UFC middleweight title winning effort over Rich Franklin was just starting to sink in. In fact, based on Silva’s performance that night, no 185-pound contender would be brash enough to call the new champion out.

Swick did at the UFC 64 post-fight press conference, and over the next couple of weeks, the Houston native made the media rounds, pleading his case as the next logical challenger for Silva.

It was all good stuff, but as the weeks went by, Swick’s name started to move further and further down the pecking order. ‘The Ultimate Fighter 4’ winner Travis Lutter would get the next shot at Silva in February; Nathan Marquardt is next in July, and Franklin will probably get a rematch before the end of the year.

Swick? He returns to the Octagon for the first time since last October to face Japan’s Yushin Okami on April 7th’s UFC 69 card.

“I’m not really focused on it right now,” said Swick when asked if it was a letdown to not get the immediate shot at the title. “At the time I was trying to get the shot – it seemed like a good fight, careerwise, for me right then. But right now I can only focus on the fight ahead, and that’s Okami. Without the win against Okami, nothing else really matters, so I’m focused on going down to Houston in front of my hometown crowd and putting on a great show and getting another win in the UFC.”

It’s the right thing to say, but is it really how Swick feels about the situation?

“I try not to think about it,” he admits. “Ideally, being in this sport and being a career fighter, you want to have a shot at the champ and you want to be the champ, but when you know it’s not gonna happen, you try not to think about it, and you do what you have to do to make sure that you deserve it and get it as soon as possible.”

To move forward and keep his name on the short list of title challengers at 185 pounds, Swick has a tough test coming up next week in the form of Okami, the last man to hold a win over Silva (albeit via disqualification in January of 2006), and a fighter who has put together three consecutive UFC victories without a loss. Even more telling is the fact that with each win, Okami has looked more and more impressive, decisioning Alan Belcher and then scoring third round stoppages of Kalib Starnes and Rory Singer. He’s one of the rare fighters that gets stronger as the fight goes on, and given Loiseau’s third round push against a tiring Swick in their fight last September, this bout becomes very interesting if it enters the third and final round. Swick doesn’t necessarily agree.

“There were definitely some reasons why I went downhill in the third against Loiseau and I won’t make those mistakes coming into this fight,” he said. “It was a bad fight for me, it was a bad fight for Loiseau as well, and it’s a lesson learned. I’m a lot more prepared for this fight than I was for Loiseau and I honestly don’t think it’s going to go to the third. If it does, I’ll be ready. I’m gonna put a different kind of pressure on him than he’s used to. He hasn’t fought anyone, especially in the UFC, that’s gonna put the pressure on that I’m gonna put, so we’ll see how he reacts.”

Unfortunately for Swick, who is 5-0 with three stoppages and two submissions in the UFC, a win over the largely unknown Kanagawa native won’t get him the same type of bump up in recognition a win over one of the bigger names at 185 pounds would get him.

“It’s always a concern when you fight someone who people don’t know, especially a guy who’s as tough as Okami and who has the record he has,” said Swick. “Then you tell people who you’re gonna fight and they look at you like ‘who’s that guy?’ In your mind, you know he’s a really talented fighter, so it stinks that everybody doesn’t know how good he really is and what you’re going up against. Again, there’s not much I can really do about it. I just want to go out there and get a good win and the people who do know Okami will know how tough he is and how legitimate an opponent he is.”

And despite Okami’s lack of a high-profile here in the United States, he is a legitimate middleweight contender and not the fighter most would want to face in their first bout off a six-month layoff, like Swick is after damaging ligaments in his left hand during the Loiseau bout. Swick doesn’t want any tune-up fights though, and he believes that with the high-impact training he does at the American Kickboxing Academy Gym in San Jose, ring rust won’t be a factor.

“We fight in the gym and there’s been plenty of times where I’ve had five or six months between fights, and even in the UFC, I was injured after the Gideon Ray fight and had a pretty big break, so it’s not a big concern about the ring rust,” said Swick. “When we fight in the gym, it’s like a fight. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we get in there and spar and it’s every bit as tough as when you’re fighting in the Octagon. I get punched, I get exhausted, I get worn out, and I dig deep. I fight different opponents at the gym every round. You’re not fighting one guy for three, four, or five rounds. And with training partners like Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, Cain Velasquez, Josh Thomson, and Bobby Southworth, that’s a lot of great talent jumping in on you, so when you go to the fight, you know you’re only fighting one guy.”

What about overtraining and leaving your fight in the gym, especially with an eight week camp under your belt?

“We’ve been monitoring to make sure that doesn’t become an issue,” said Swick, and luckily for him, training and preparing for the fight have been the only things he’s had to deal with, which is surprising since he is returning to fight in Texas for the first time since 1998.

“I haven’t been bombarded too bad about it,” he said. “A lot of people bought tickets and my mom has been my little spokesperson for Houston so she’s dealing with everything. All my friends and family go through her – she’s putting out bulletins and where everybody’s meeting for the weigh-ins and stuff like that. She’s my Team Swick representative (Laughs).”

Plus, given his unofficial role as UFC spokesman ever since ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ aired in 2005, Swick is more than ready for the media blitz that will hit him in Houston next week.

“I’m used to dealing with 50 things at one time,” he chuckles. “I’m not really comfortable unless I’m doing all these things at once, so it doesn’t really bother me. I lead a really busy life and I’m a multitasker, so it’s not a big deal. As far as the media is concerned, I think it (his past history dealing with the press) is gonna be very beneficial. Being on the Ultimate Fighter, since it was a TV show, we had to do a lot more media than normal fighters that are just coming into the UFC for their first fight. So right from the start we just got bombarded. It gave us a lot of experience with the media and I’ve just pursued it above and beyond everyone else because I know it’s hugely important for your career to be in front of the media, do the interviews, give back to the fans, and stuff like that.”

When it comes down to it though, Mike Swick is a fighter, and at 27, he’s approaching his prime and preparing for his assault on the elite of the division. So drawing the line between life as a fighter and life as a celebrity is no problem for him. He knows where his heart is.

“The competition aspect and the fighting is my true passion,” he said. “That’s what gets me up every morning. Of course the publicity and extracurricular activities are great and fun, but that’s not my passion. My passion is to be the best in the world. I’m very competitive, I love to train, I love to fight, and I won’t lose focus of that because without winning fights, everything else isn’t gonna be there.”

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