Mike Swick suffered with a disease that baffled his doctors. In a sport well documented to be about training in teams, the UFC welterweight battled the illness the same way he fights opponents in the Octagon.
"To be honest, he never talked about it," Javier Mendez, one of Swick's coaches and founder of American Kickboxing Academy, told FOXSports.com. "He was upbeat and was convinced he was going to be back. He didn't really let us know about those demons he was battling. He hid it."
The diagnosis: esophageal spasms. The ailment, which was originally misdiagnosed, can cause intense chest pain and makes food intake difficult.
After a change in diet and medical treatment that finally allowed him to maintain his weight, Swick was back in the Octagon at UFC on FOX 4 in August. That was 910 days after his previous fight, a stretch also prolonged by a serious knee injury. A second-round knockout of DaMarques Johnson righted a career that could be set for a full rebound with a victory over Matt Brown at UFC on FOX 5 in Seattle on Saturday.
"Life is all about figuring out puzzles and I feel like I've done that," Swick told FOXSports.com. "I defied the doctors who doubted I could fight again. I got my health back. I finally was able to take in enough calories. I felt better than I had in my life (before UFC on FOX 4) and not only fought, but won."
Swick, a cast member of first season of "The Ultimate Fighter," hopes he's a couple fights from at title shot. (Georges St-Pierre is the current titleholder and he defended the belt with a decision over Carlos Condit at UFC 154 last month.) While that's his goal, Swick added that he's not overlooking Brown in the least.
"He puts on a lot of pressure and he's an aggressive guy," Swick said. "He's definitely a tough guy who can take a punch and pushes forward."
That sounds a lot like Swick's approach, which made him one of the sport's more popular fighters. His match against Johnson was a slugfest, punctuated with a blow that knocked Johnson out cold. Swick, 33, earned "Knockout of the Night" and the $50,000 check that came with that honor.
"I had a lot on the line that night," Swick said. "I didn't go up there wanting to get 'Knockout of the Night.' I didn't care if I won by decision or a submission."
Mendez said Swick enters this fight in better shape, especially when it comes to his cardio. Atypical to many fighters, Swick's training weight is only about two or three pounds more than the welterweight limit (170 pounds).
"His training has been better than the last one," Mendez said. "He's also sharper mentally."
Had the UFC on FOX 4 bout not gone his way, Swick didn't really have much of a backup plan. He has been slowly putting together a gym in Thailand, but the yet-to-be-opened MMA facility is more of a side project.
"I would have to go through something drastic to force me to new direction," Swick said.
For many, that would have been nearly three years off due to a mystery ailment and then a torn ACL.