The tears have ceased. It’s time for the healing to begin. But how long that will take is anyone’s guess.
"You just have to be willing to walk forward in the dark," Todd Duffee revealed to FOXSports.com on Friday.
The uber-talented UFC heavyweight can talk openly about his situation now. He’s thinking positively. His outlook is great.
That wasn’t always the case, not after Duffee woke up one morning over the summer with a stabbing pain in his back and numbness in his arm and hand. His first thought was that it might be a pinched nerve. If only he were that lucky.
After a myriad of tests and scans, Duffee was diagnosed with Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes pain, motor weakness and numbness, according to the National Center for Biotechnology. Doctors don’t know how he got it or why. That’s the thing with Parsonage-Turner. When it comes, it’s abrupt and without reason.
It took Duffee six weeks just to regain the ability to do the simplest things, the things an incredibly athletic 27-year-old can take for granted.
"Every day I would wake up and the first thing I would do is try to close my hand," Duffee said.
Never mind training to compete in one of the most grueling physical sports in the world. Duffee, who had been at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., has moved to Boca Raton, Fla., to open up a fitness center with friends. He’s throwing his focus and his attention behind that to distract himself from the cold reality: He truly doesn’t know when he’ll be able to get back into the Octagon.
"I quit breaking down in the shower four or five weeks ago," Duffee said. "…Nothing in life is fair. You can’t control circumstances."
Friends and family have been indispensable. They’ve allowed Duffee to keep his head, even when doctors advised him to "look at a different career." He doesn’t plan on it.
"I know I have the skill set to be one of the best heavyweights in the world," Duffee said. "I’ve worked so hard for nine years and I’m just going to walk away from it because there’s a small possibility I won’t fight again? I don’t think so."
The estimation of his potential is not hyperbole. Duffee, with his chiseled physique, heavy hands and agility uncommon for a man his size (6-3, 250), has already scored one of the fastest knockouts in UFC history over Tim Hague in seven seconds back in 2009. At that point, he was one of the hottest prospects in MMA.
He was mysteriously released from the UFC a year later, but made his return at UFC 155 last December with another first-round knockout over Phil DeFries. There was talk that Duffee could fight on the prelims at UFC 168 in December, but then this popped up.
Duffee has gotten better, but still feels numbness in his arm and hand. His full motor functions have not returned yet. He knows they will, just not when. Duffee plans to fight before the end of 2014 and doctors have told him that’s a possibility. But with a condition like this — Duffee can’t even take medication to treat it — it’s impossible to be sure about anything.
"Nerves are weird," he said. "There’s nothing you can do but wait."
And wait he will. Duffee has accepted everything, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t constant frustration. It has also come with a rush of gratitude. Not just for the friends and family who have been so supportive either.
"It’s definitely a perception change," Duffee said. "I’m really appreciative now of all I’ve experienced in MMA."