“My first words to my manager (were), ‘Who broke their leg?’” Hill, 35, told MMAjunkie.
When told it was Silva, and that the former champ had suffered the same injury he had five years ago on the same month – in the same round – he let out a cry of disbelief.
“I couldn’t wish that on anybody, friend or foe,” said Hill, who first stepped onto the national stage as a cast member on the fifth season of the UFC’s long-running reality series, “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Since then, there have been more phone calls, all of them asking for his reaction to Silva’s injury, which aired Dec. 28 on pay-per-view at the UFC’s annual year-end event. Not surprisingly, it’s brought up a lot of old memories.
“Some good, but obviously a lot of bad,” Hill said. “The pain associated with any compound fracture is something to deal with in and of itself, (as are) some of the struggles my family endured during that time. We all kind of reflected and found some bright points.”
Hill’s injury didn’t end his career, nor did it fracture his family, though it threatened to do both years after it happened. He said he’s more mentally tough than he used to be, and his resolve is stronger than ever. He is still pushing toward his dream of being a UFC champion.
Physically, though, he said, “I’ll never, ever be the same as when I stepped into that cage Dec. 10, 2008. But that’s the territory you live with when you sign the contract.”
“The biggest thing that he’s going to face is the aspect of, we’re human warriors and gladiators, so to speak – we make our living getting in the cage and going to war,” Hill said. “So he’s going to have that question – ‘My body failed me. Is that a sign for me? Is that a sign for me to leave this alone?’ He’s going to have doubts about the whys.
“The big thing with me was, ‘Why me, why now?’ Only God knows those answers.”
As Silva recovers, Hill said, he could also be subject to fame’s cruel underbelly.
“There’s a lot of people out there that are going to say, ‘We’re glad that happened to you,’” he said. “He’s going to experience the insensitivity of people. I think a lot of people downplay how serious this is for him, or anybody on that magnitude of a stage – to be a main event, worldwide, and to have that happen. It sounds crazy, but he’s going to deal with some embarrassment.”
“It just felt like [I] was cut from the UFC because of an injury, not for performance, and that was just something I couldn’t live with. If I’m not good enough – if I lose, losing is a part of the sport. But to have my livelihood stripped because of this injury and be on the outskirts looking in, watching the success of other fighters, and maybe some fighters that I feel I can compete with in the division, [was] just very difficult.”
Although the UFC paid for Hill’s surgery to fix his leg, he said the cost of his ongoing treatment, combined with his lack of fight income, prompted him to move his family into his parents’ house.
“We may have walked away with 20 grand (for the Hartt fight), and for that injury, it doesn’t measure up,” said Hill, who lives in Spring Hill, Fla., and is a father of three. “I have a condition called ‘drop toe’ that we were no longer able to get treatment on. Two years after, I was still having surgeries from the initial injuries.
“I have several toes that don’t extend any more. And we all know you get your power from your feet. … I appreciate the UFC and everything they did because the surgery alone was quite a big deal.
“But still, paying for that doesn’t pay for the bills and your cost of living. That was my fourth professional fight ever, so to have that happen, we not only fell in the hole – we were under the hole.”
Hill was resolved, however, to continue his career and prove he was worthy of fighting in the UFC. On the reality show, he was one of the most driven and eager to learn from other cast members with far more experience.
Today, that hunger remains, though he also is embracing another grind – the life of a student. He is a business administration major at a local college.
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Hill continues to train at Universal Martial Arts in Spring Hill. He now fights at welterweight, which fills him out from his years as a beanpole lightweight. While he lacks training partners of his stature and pro experience, he makes no excuses for the trajectory of his career.
“We’re still at it,” Hill said. “It seems to be different rules for different guys. But that’s life. You don’t cry over spilled milk. The one thing I will not do is give up.”
Although he wonders whether concerns over liability would make the UFC hesitant to bring him back, he wants one last shot, whether or not he’s physically the same man he was when he last stepped into the octagon.
Thankfully, he said, he still has the support of his family, who lived with him through one of the most difficult experiences of his life.
This past Sunday, his wife – “the one with the strong stomach,” he said – found the Silva fight online and told him what happened. He didn’t want to watch.
It took him two years to watch his own fight, after all.
“To be honest, you will never truly recover,” Hill said. “I feel like I’ve grown, I feel like I’m blessed to be here, and I’m blessed to continue fighting. But as far as being 100 percent, it’s not going to happen.”