Hill Determined to Return to Cage

By Loretta Hunt Dec 31, 2008
Corey Hill got his Christmas wish a week early: he spent the holidays with his wife and three kids at home, instead of in the hospital.

The 30-year-old wrestler suffered the most gruesome MMA injury of 2008, when the tibia bone in his right leg snapped near his ankle during a bout with Dale Hartt at UFC “Fight for the Troops” on Dec. 10 at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

At 6-foot-4 and only 155 pounds, Hill’s rail-thin appendage bent and dangled in a visually jarring manner straight out of a Plastic Man comic. The injury, which came 10 seconds into the second round when Hartt checked an outside kick, raised questions regarding the ultra-slim fighter’s ability to compete again, but Hill (2-2) is determined to return to MMA once he recovers.

If the body is willing to follow the mind, a fifth career fight will be inevitable, according to Hill. How long that will take is still a question.

Back at home in Spring Hill, Fla., Hill has been instructed to rest for four to six weeks before starting rehabilitation. Hill said he spends most days on the couch, with his leg elevated, playing video games with his 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. Hill and his wife also have a 7-month-old son.

When he has to move, Hill uses crutches.

“Wheelchairs mentally take a toll out of you,” he said. “I’m slowly putting pressure on it now. I’m hardheaded. They say it takes the average person six months to heal. I’ll do it in two and a half.”

Hill has vivid memories of Dec. 10 and he’s amazingly upbeat about them.

“My corner and I felt I’d won the first round,” said Hill of his brief clash with Hartt. “There’s a certain amount of things that have to line up to be perfect. Everything was lined up. I threw a kick. He checked it.”

Hill felt pain immediately from what he rated his hardest kick he’d ever thrown.

“The minute I landed it, it was like my body was going off that something was wrong. I immediately extended my arms like, ‘My leg, my leg, my leg! No!’" he said. “I knew something was wrong. When I tried to plant it and it wasn’t there, I knew something was wrong.”

Unable to support his own slender frame, Hill collapsed to a knee and crawled an inch or two before maneuvering onto to his back. Hartt hesitantly followed and took side control, while Hill instinctually grabbed his opponent’s arm and straightened it into a Kimura attempt before the referee intervened.

“It was funny, ‘cause it was there,” laughed Hill. “Looking at my ankle, I knew something was wrong… but I’m like, ‘Yo, can I get him with the Kimura?’ Obviously I couldn’t finish it. I was in too much pain, I was just probably protecting myself.”

The arena, full of servicemen and women being treated to the charity event, fell uncharacteristically quiet.

“I remember lifting my head up and I looked at it and I saw the bottom of my foot. I’d never seen the bottom of my foot before,” said Hill.

Medical staff rushed the cage and surrounded Hill. He was gently eased onto a stretcher and remembers giving the thumbs up as they snaked his stretcher through the audience and out of the coliseum.

In the ambulance, emergency technicians attempted to begin a line to give Hill painkillers, but the IVs kept popping out of his stick-thin arms.

UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta and president Dana White called Hill together at the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and wished him a speedy recovery. Their positive thoughts did not stop there.

In addition to paying for Hill’s medical expenses, the UFC left one of its employees behind to stay with the fighter at the hospital for the first six days while the rest of the team moved on to Las Vegas for another event held three days later.

Hill underwent surgery the next morning, where a rod, pins, and nails were set from his knee to ankle joint to help strengthen the bone.

When Hill was released from the hospital a week and a half later, the UFC paid for the fighter and his family to stay in town at a hotel so Hill could visit with doctors again before he left for home.

Hill’s teammates at the Gracie Tampa Academy have also started a fund to aid the fighter and his family while he heals.

Hill said he’s been overwhelmed by the good will, although he’s aware of the criticism that has come from his misfortune. Concerned for his welfare, some believe the towering lightweight can’t and shouldn’t fight again due to his irregular proportions.

“I’ve always been a thin guy with not a lot of body fat,” said Hill. "I walk around on normal days at 166 [pounds]. When I train, I’m in the low 60s, so it makes sense to cut a few pounds rather than fight these guys that are 185-200 pounds cutting down to 170. If they think this guy’s too skinny, that’s their opinion. I have people on the other side that say that my body type’s the perfect frame to win a world title.”

Indeed, Hill’s body has endured other maladies. Hill broke his leg at the age of five, then cracked his collarbone and tailbone on separate occasions wrestling in high school. In addition to wrestling, Hill also played football and ran track.

Hill has been successful in his own skin for a long time. He won the Nationals at Colby Community College wrestling at 157 pounds in 1999, and was a runner-up the next year.

“Kick something as hard as you can,” he said. “I don’t think it matters if you’re a big guy or a small guy, you kick something as hard as you can and it runs into science. Action and reaction. For it to snap -- the perfect check, the perfect knee. If you noticed in the first round, I landed some killer leg kicks. That’s why he checked. This is why this happened.”

Apparently, it will take more than a horrific injury for Hill to give up the fight game.

“People are like, ‘Wow, you want to rush back into that after your injury?’ People that aren’t in love with things don’t know how hard it is to walk away from them,” said Hill.

Hill did everything from selling pianos to digging ditches for masons, before packing up his family and moving them from Florida to Colorado to pursue fighting.

A year and a half later, a friend suggested Hill audition for “The Ultimate Fighter 5” on Spike TV. Ironically, Hill flew back to Florida for the auditions and was encouraged when UFC president Dana White picked him out of a line-up to grapple a second time for the judges. Hill had only two amateur fights under his belt.

On the show, guest instructor Jeremy Horn cooed to the cameras about the 6-foot-4 beanpole’s potential, but Hill’s career has been slow to gain momentum since the series. A rib injury prevented Hill from competing in the show’s finale, though he nabbed a win and loss in the Octagon in 2008 prior to his bout with Hartt.

Hill said he won’t watch his fight with Hartt until he returns to training. “When I watch it, I want to be able to be working out, figuring out what went wrong to see if I can do anything better,” he said.

Mentally, Hill has no doubts that he’ll step back into the Octagon again. Physically, he’ll have to sit and wait.

“I started this to win a belt,” he said. “It’s a little confusing when things like this happen as far as a mental setback, but physically, if my body is willing, I’m going to get back out there. I’m looking forward to making big news with the comeback.”

Donations to the Corey Hill Get Well Fund can be made at www.gracietampa.com
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