The last time Mike Swick won a fight in the UFC Octagon, The Hangover had just dropped in theatres. Not the sequel with the Tyson tattoo and all the same jokes on repeat—the original Las Vegas classic, the one that led UFC star Joe Stevenson to mistake my colleague Jeremy Botter for Zach Galifianakis at a party poolside at the Mandalay Bay.
Gaga had just hit big with "Poker Face". Peyton Manning still had an intact neck. Charlie Sheen was in the top-rated sitcom in the world and kept his craziness to himself.
What am I trying to say?
It was a long time ago.
Now, more than two-and-a-half years since his last fight in the cage, Swick is attempting an improbable comeback, returning to action on Fox against Demarques Johnson. Can it be done?
We only say no because it has never happened before.
Of course comebacks aren't unheard of. Mike Vick returned from prison and picked up right where he left off on the gridiron. Ted Williams did a stint in World War II and returned to the American League as the same deadly hitter he'd been when he left.
Closer to home, or at least in the realm of combat sports, Muhammad Ali was sidelined for three years after a conviction for draft evasion and returned to reclaim his heavyweight crown.
MMA legends, however, haven't found it quite so easy. Brock Lesnar was never the same after a bout with diverticulitis. Pancrase founder Masakatsu Funaki returned to the ring after a retirement of almost seven years. His contemporary Bas Rutten did the same. Neither looked like the same fighter he had been.
To be fair, those were both old men, past their expiration date, desperately seeking one final run under the bright lights. Swick is different. He was cut down in his prime, first by an esophageal spasm that made it impossible for him to train.
When he finally seemed to have things under control, a devastating ACL injury sidelined him once again. Now it's been so long that the feel of competition, the pressure of standing across the cage from another foaming at the mouth fighter, are nothing but distant memories.
Most similar to Swick, undoubtedly much to his chagrin, is former light heavyweight kingpin Frank Shamrock. Shamrock retired from the sport, nursing bad knees and a worse pay check. When he returned to the cage in Strikeforce after spending most of the previous five years on the sideline watching the sport he'd helped build explode in popularity, he wasn't the same fighter.
Like Swick, Shamrock was still in his early 30s. But in a case like this, age doesn't seem to matter. You lose something in the years between competition. Whatever it is that drives a fighter forward, makes him willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to succeed, doesn't make the return. Physically the body may heal. But mentally it is never the same.
"The major concern is that although motor skills are very resistant to forgetting, the performance at such levels is a very, very fragile coordination between mind, body and emotion," Howard Zelaznik, a professor of health and kinesiology at Purdue University told the LA Times.
If Swick can make it back to the top of his game, he presents a new challenge for all the main players in the welterweight class. He's been gone so long that there has been a changing of the guard at the top of the division.
"I'm excited about the division," Swick told Bleacher Report's Duane Finley. "It's a jam-packed division with a lot of talent and I can't wait to get back in there and mix it up."
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