This weekend at UFC 159, injuries seemed to plague both the undercard and main card, with Alan Belcher taking a horrible eye-poke in his fight against Michael Bisping, and Jon Jones nearly tearing off his own toe in a freak accident. Before we had that lovely image stained in our brains, fans had another train wreck to reminisce about - the snapped leg of Corey Hill.
Corey Hill entered "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2007 under dubious terms, and went from underdog to a prospect to watch out for in the UFC lightweight division. Unfortunately, few remember his finishing abilities and gutsy performances and only recall one grisly injury that has been cemented in MMA fans heads for nearly five years.
Standing six feet and four inches tall, Hill was a giant in the lightweight division. When he auditioned for the fifth season of TUF, which featured BJ Penn and Jens Pulver as the coaches, Hill lied to the producers, claiming to have had four pro fights on his record. In reality, he had only fought in two amateur bouts (you can thank Hill for Zuffa working harder on checking statistics for future TUF try-outs), but kept the charade up all the way through to his first fight on the show. As part of Team Pulver, Hill defeated Rob Emerson in the first round, but lost against Nate Diaz via triangle choke.
Despite this loss, Hill earned a shot in the UFC, making his company debut on "UFC Fight Night 12" with an impressive TKO win over Joe Veres. Corey suffered his first pro loss (since the TUF fights do not count on fighter's records) at UFC 86, and and saw himself matched up against Dale Hartt, a fighter who had just lost his UFC debut a week after Hill's last defeat at "UFC Fight Night: Silva VS Irvin".
The stage was set for "UFC: Fight for the Troops" on December 10, 2008 in North Carolina. A fundraiser for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, where Hill and Hartt would meet in a lightweight bout. Headlined by Josh Koscheck VS Yoshiyuki Yoshida, the card took place a few weeks after UFC 91, where Randy Couture lost his UFC heavyweight title to Brock Lesnar.
The first round of this undercard fight went to Hill, but the tide was turned early in the second round. Hill threw a low kick to Hartt, who checked it like it was nothing special. As he blocked the kick, Hill's shinbone seemed to snap in half, causing Hill to crumble to the mats by the time his broken leg returned to his fighting stance. Joe Rogan began screaming at the referee from the commentary booth to stop the fight, which he did at 20 seconds of the first round. Hill had fractured his tibia and fibula, and slightly less importantly, had lost the fight due to the break.
Hill's leg snapping was not the only injury suffered on UFC's "Fight for the Troops" event. Earlier on the show, Steve Cantwell gave Razak Al-Hassan an armbar that "The Razor" refused to tap out from. His pride led to Al-Hassan having a dislocated elbow. After being knocked out in 33 seconds of the first round by Mike Swick, Jonathan Goulet had to undergo an MRI, and it was suspected he hurt tore his MCL as he collapsed on the way down. Brandon Wolff received stitches for cuts courtesy of Ben Saunders, as well as taking a poke in the eye via one of Saunder's toes from a kick. Yoshida and Nate Loughran were also hospitalized due to their losses.
Hill underwent surgery, where a rod was inserted into his leg, held in place with pins at the ankle and the knee. The recovery time for the injury was estimated to be at least 18 months, with his friends and family wondering how he would be able to walk normally, and hopeful that this injury would not put a halt to his MMA career.
‘This is not going to be the end of Corey Hill. It's not going to end like this,'" Hill told Kevin Iole in an interview on Yahoo! Sports. "Doctors are telling me I'm not going to fight. Well, I don't know if they say that for motivational reasons, or if they really mean it at the time, but it was great motivation for me to hear doctors say, ‘You'll never do this. You're never going to fight.' I was like, ‘Oh yeah? Watch me.' I'm a competitor and this was my dream. I wasn't quitting that easily."
Rehab for the injury was arduous, with even basic tasks becoming absurdly difficult and causing great stress to himself and wife and kids. The UFC paid for the surgery and rehab, but finances were still tough in the house with Hill unable to earn a living for such a long period of time. An event was held to help raise funds for the fighter, as well as Gracie Tampa holding an online fundraiser. Hill persevered and managed to return only 13 months after the accident, winning a fight against Jason Trzewieczynski on January 23, 2010 at "Raging Wolf 6". Since then, he has gone 3-3, including fights against Kit Cope and "Razor" Rob McCullough, with his most recent fight being a submissions loss at XFC 21 this past December.
Hartt fought again in UFC, losing to Dennis Siver at UFC 99 and suffering another loss over a year later during a fight in Canada where he hurt his shoulder, and has not fought since. As for Hill's shocking injury, Corey never saw tape of the accident until nearly a year later, and was not too affected by it in most cases. "I just can't watch that slow motion, though," he told Iole in the same interview from earlier. "The fight itself, in normal speed, it's not bad. Slow motion? Nah. I don't think so. I don't need to see that."