The Original Fight Island is a series of interviews with the major players of the fight scene on the island of Phuket, Thailand. These are the stories of survival during the Covid pandemic and its rippling effects.
Mike Swick has worn many hats over the course of his lifetime in mixed martial arts. From participating in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, through a 10-year career in the UFC, to starting and running his own gym, there’s not much “Quick” hasn’t seen.
Over the past seven years or so, Swick has grown his gym, AKA Thailand, into a central showpiece among fight gyms on Phuket. Its website touts its stature as the highest-rated training venue in the world, along with rave reviews from UFC luminaries including Dana White, Chuck Liddell and Daniel Cormier. It attracted regular visits from celebrities, famous fighters and influencers.
At least it used to, before Covid-19 hit. In a recent interview with The AllStar, Swick provided a detailed account into how his gym kept itself afloat – and grew stronger – even as dwindling visitor numbers hit Phuket’s gyms.
“Initially, I thought it was going to pass fast,” Swick said. “I knew we would take a hit, and it would be some kind of problem. I figured, at most, it would be a slow few months, so we prepared for that. In business, you have cash reserves for when you’re slow or there are emergencies.
“You have to prepare for months of not having income. Especially in Thailand, when there’s possibly a coup or some political issue. There could be any reason for a month or two months that tourism is low, we’ve had that in the past, but a year and a half? Yeah, wasn’t prepared for that.”
The lack of income exposed issues in the gym’s books. The UFC veteran hadn’t been doing thorough audits on his business. Money was coming in, but it was also dripping through small cracks that had gone unnoticed before the lockdowns.
“Things were good, and you think everything’s fine. In reality, when Covid hit, we lost our customers, and we had to stop and look at everything. We had an enormous amount of problems. So we spent a year and a half fixing every one of those problems. From the content websites, online stores, upgrading the gym marketing. I mean, we fixed everything, and it’s proving itself now.”
After remedying many of the concerns and with travel opening back up, AKA Thailand is once again thriving. Swick is adding to his gym after recouping some savings used to stay open during the lockdown. While things are looking up, Swick feels the original fight island may never be the same.
“The island has changed in certain ways, absolutely, but I don’t think it’s detrimental. For us, we used it as a good thing. We’ll be reimbursed for everything we lost. A lot of businesses got shut down and got lost, but it’s not their fault. So, that’s unfortunate. You can’t blame somebody for losing their business when the country was shut down for a year and a half. The country was closed half the time and the borders were closed for the other half. So it’s unfortunate seeing everything closed down around us, it’s depressing. But I think it will recover and come back stronger.”
Swick sees it like a roller coaster. They were at the bottom of a hill and are slowly inching back up to another peak. Of course, that means in the future the ride will take them back down, but that’s just how life is: ups and downs, highs and lows.
Just this week, Swick revealed the most recent challenge life has thrown at him: cancer. Even in talking about his battle, his optimism shines through, just as with Covid.
“I want everyone to watch as I beat this BS and recover myself back to 100% with a full recovery. So stay tuned,” Swick said in a now much-publicised Instagram post.
Such is the positivity in a man who has seen many peaks and troughs through his fighting and business careers. Regardless of the challenge, be it Covid – or cancer – you can be sure that Swick and AKA Thailand will be ready.