Now healthy, Swick gunning for UFC gold

Remember Mike Swick?

It’s understandable if you don’t. When the UFC welterweight makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon next weekend against DeMarques Johnson in Los Angeles, it will have been nearly 2.5 years since his last appearance.

The reason for the long layoff -- that’s kind of a long story. It started in 2007, when Swick (14-4) started suffering from several symptoms, notably the fact that after meals, he frequently felt like a heart attack victim. Doctors provided an original diagnosis of dyspepsia, an untreatable stomach condition.

Obviously wanting to avoid the symptoms, Swick ate less. He dropped from a middleweight to a welterweight. He got one fight away from earning a title shot in 2009, but lost a unanimous decision to Dan Hardy.

It wasn’t until later that year Swick found out his physicians had been wrong. He didn’t suffer from dyspepsia. What he was dealing with were esophageal spasms -- a treatable disorder.

He started eating again and even decided to move back to middleweight. He signed on to fight David Mitchell in January 2011, but the fight was scrapped when Mitchell got injured. Swick withdrew from the card as well, citing his esophageal condition.

Finally, in August 2011, Swick felt he had the issue under control and looked forward to meeting rising prospect Erick Silva at UFC 134. Less than a month before the fight, he tore his ACL while training.

Nearly a year later, the 33-year-old American Kickboxing Academy product is as anxious as you might expect to finally get back in the cage. He spoke to ESPN.com about his return.

ESPN: What do you remember about the scenario leading up to the knee injury?

Swick: I remember feeling great. I was so happy. I had dealt with thinking my career was over and then getting my career back. I was extremely healthy. A couple weeks before the fight, we were doing marathon rolls. I was with Kos [Josh Koscheck], working on getting back to my feet. My foot got stuck to the mat and I turned, leaving my leg extended. All his weight buckled on my leg and bent it inward. It made a loud pop, and I knew instantly the fight was off.

ESPN: Did you feel cursed at that point?

Swick: It was rough. I was questioning what was going on. What was I doing wrong to deserve that kind of bad luck. The one thing that stayed true was I was excited it was a knee injury. At least I overcame the big hurdle, which was my health. Yeah, I’ll be out for a year, but at least the health is there.

ESPN: After everything that’s happened, do you ever find yourself asking if you’re the same physically?

Swick: I haven’t really thought about it. I feel like I’m the same guy. I feel even better as far as techniques I’ve picked up and speed and strength. I feel like a better fighter, and on August 4, I’ll get to prove that.

ESPN: Have you managed to still evolve in the past 2.5 years, even without a fight?

Swick: I’ve gone through three fight camps. This is my third fight camp without a fight. Going through one camp you pick up a lot and you evolve. This is my third full 12-week camp, so there’s been a lot of training in there.

ESPN: When you look back on it all, how do you feel about it? Frustrated those years are gone from your career? Proud that you can say you’ve come back from it?

Swick: There were times it was frustrating, but I did a lot of stuff in the last two years. I helped build a business, traveled, visited the military overseas, had a baby girl -- a lot of great things happened in the last two years that would have had to happen during fight camps. So, I definitely tried to make the most of my time off.

ESPN: Any concern of an adrenaline dump on fight night, considering how long you’ve looked forward to this?

Swick: I think I’ll be good. A lot of times in my career I had to step up big under a lot of pressure. I don’t think this is any different.

ESPN: What’d you think about returning against DeMarques Johnson?

Swick: I was happy because stylistically it’s a great fight for fans. We’re both aggressive fighters who like to go out and finish fights and push the pace. If we align in the center [of the Octagon], there’s going to be fireworks.

ESPN: How do you think the UFC is viewing you now? You were a title contender, lost two fights, then left for 2.5 years.

Swick: I don’t know. I’m in a unique situation. I don’t know anyone else who had 12 UFC fights then didn’t fight for 2.5 years. I don’t know what the deal’s going to be after this fight. I know the most important thing is to do my job. I feel like this is a new beginning. To actually be healthy and have the right mindset, not having to deal with all this other stuff. I’m hoping to go out and have the best fights of my life yet. I 100 percent believe that. I’m not just saying that.

ESPN: Is the goal still the belt? Always will be?

Swick: Of course. In high school we used to watch the UFC, and I would tell my friends I wanted to be a UFC fighter. They said I was a dreamer and it wouldn’t happen. I went out and did it, but the one thing I never did was win that belt. That’s the one goal I’ve had that I’ve never achieved, so it’s always going to be there. That’s the ultimate goal.