Hill making the comeback

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Corey Hill thinks of Dec. 10, 2008, every day.

The 31-year-old lightweight won the first round of his fight with Dale Hartt at UFC's "Fight for the Troops" and was just getting started in the second when Hartt kicked him in the leg.

Hill did what he usually did back then, which was to answer force with force. He threw a counter leg kick, something to remind Hartt there would be no free throws against him.

When the five-foot-10-inch Hartt checked the right leg of six-foot-four-inch Hill with his left shin, the impact shattered Hill's tibia and fibula.

Hill spent four months completely bedridden, his leg held together with steel rods and pins, wondering if he'd ever return to fighting.

He was almost completely dependant on his wife during the recovery and experienced severe mood swings dealing with the helplessness of the situation.

"I had the support of my wife and my friends, but mentally, I was like, something's not right," Hill told MMAWeekly.com in an exclusive interview. "Why am I laying in bed? I should be out there doing stuff."

By his and other's accounts, that get-up-and-go spirit has been the blessing/curse of Hill's life – he can't sit still.

It was hard to miss his infectious hunger for learning the fight game on the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter." Back then, he had fought less than a year and for all intents and purposes had made his professional debut on the show. Afterwards, he did a short stint at Miletich Martial Arts before settling at Gracie Tampa.

"It's wanting to learn everything overnight and being hard-headed about it," he said. "I want to learn jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai and I want to learn it by next Wednesday, and it doesn't work like that. I tell people I'm probably bipolar."

For Hill, the accident presented a fork in his life's road – it was a sign to move on, or to push through and reach for his full potential.

In June, two months after rising to his feet again, he got off his "pity potty."

"It would have been very easy for the MMA world to never see me again," he said. "A lot of my friends were like, 'we can understand if you don't go back.' But that was a copout. I've been taught through life experience, if it's easy, you usually don't appreciate it as much as if you work your butt off. When you get there, it feels a lot better."

The problem, as he soon found out, was getting his body to agree.

His mobility was severely limited. Any prolonged physical activity brought swelling where the steel pins set. He ignored the discomfort and played basketball; he tried to spar on one leg at Gracie Tampa, propping himself against the wall and throwing hands. His coach, Rob Kahn, nearly had a heart attack.

"He was like, 'I can't take it! You can't come in here! You'll drive me crazy!'" laughs Hill.

Kahn, of course, was concerned for his safety, as his friends and family were. Doctors had given him a grim prognosis: 16 months with the pins in, eight months of rehab, then a slow climb back to fight shape. He was looking at two-and-a-half years out of action if he played by the rules.

No way was he going to sit still that long. So he searched for doctors who would take the pins out of his leg.

"I had doctors saying 'it's my way or the highway,'" said Hill. "And I'm like, OK, I'll see you later.'"

By the fourth doctor, he had found a sympathetic ear. Soon after, in late June, he had the pins surgically removed.

"I decided, you know what? This is going to be my greatest comeback of all time," he said.

With less metal in his leg – the rod still remained – Hill got some of his mobility back. Two weeks later, he returned to Gracie Tampa.

There were good days and bad days in his recovery. He couldn't spar at the drop of a hat. He couldn't throw with abandon. Before he even got started on the mat, he needed 20 to 30 minutes of stretching.

He still suffers pain, but it's not debilitating.

"Now, I can't rely so much on pure athleticism all the time," he said. "Corey Hill has to have a game plan, versus, let's go out there and see where it ends up."

If you were wondering about the leg, he said that was the easiest part of getting back in the groove.

"I'm a modest guy, but my friends say I'm a little overconfident," he said. "For me, realizing the injury, and realizing that someone may grab that leg, it was easy for me to start throwing kicks with it. That way, I could remove doubt in my mind, and the guys I'm sparring with know that 'he's not afraid of the leg kick.'

"I don't just throw it out there willy nilly anymore. I'm looking for a specific spot on your body and I'm really trying to connect, versus, when the injury happened, just reacting."

When Hill overdoes it – and he still does, according to Kahn – teammates remind him of the value of training hard versus training smart.

"Once I get warm, it's the same old Corey," he said.

Hill is itching to get inside the cage again, but he wants to be smart about his return. He knows the high level of UFC fighters and doesn't want to rush into a situation he's not prepared for. On the other hand, he and his family have gone almost a whole year on one income (his wife works has a hairdresser).

"Fifty percent of me wants to get back out there because I'm going to be a great fighter, and the other 50 percent is financially," he said. "We went from two vehicles to one vehicle. But we're not doing anything that no one else in this economy is doing."

In a best-case scenario, he hopes to be fighting "January-ish."

"I want to not just return, I want to return as a better fighter."