Todd Duffee, still dealing with rare nerve disorder, targets October for UFC return

Todd Duffee (left) hasn't fought since December 2012 after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. — Todd Duffee has begun sparring and he’s gradually inching closer to a return to the UFC.

The former top heavyweight prospect, who has been sidelined for more than a year with a rare nerve disorder, told FOX Sports on Thursday at American Top Team that he is targeting October for his return. For the last two weeks, he has been one of Muhammad Lawal’s main sparring partners for Lawal’s fight against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

"I’m way ahead of schedule according to everyone I talk to, so I can’t scream and b*tch too much," Duffee said. "But I’m going to."

Duffee, 28, only started sparring last week and he’s only able to go 60 or 70 percent, he said. He’s still not at the point where he can go multiple rounds in a row. Duffee said he’s done stand up and grappling, but hasn’t done any real explosive wrestling training yet. He’s also paying much more attention to stretching, working with resistance bands, than he ever did before.

Duffee (8-2) was diagnosed last year with Parsonage-Turner syndrome, a neurological issue that causes pain, weakness and/or numbness in the shoulders or arms. At one point, Duffee was unable to open his right hand and experienced excruciating pain. Doctors have no clue why he got it and it took him six weeks just to regain the ability to do the most normal things.

I’m not dealing with the pain as much as I was with the Parsonage-Turner. But as far as where it’s at, I don’t know.

There is no real treatment for Parsonage-Turner. All he could really do was wait and see if it got better. It has and Duffee never truly considered giving up on MMA. However, there is still plenty of uncertainty.

"I’m not dealing with the pain as much as I was with the Parsonage-Turner," he said. "But as far as where it’s at, I don’t know."

Back in the fall, Duffee moved back to South Florida to open up BST Fitness with partners in Boca Raton. The location of his own gym brought him back to American Top Team, the first major gym Duffee ever trained at. Previously, he had been at American Kickboxing Academy and several other camps across the country.

Duffee said seeing the cage at ATT gave him flashbacks to his younger days. There’s a certain comfort in being at a place that "feels like home." And of course the expertise of head coach Ricardo Liborio doesn’t hurt, either.

"I’m driving to practice every day, thinking, ‘Damn this is fun,’" Duffee said. "I’m driving down 95, cruising, listening to tunes, getting in the mode. … I don’t take it for granted the way I used to, golly. I get way more excited than I used to. I feel young again, in a sense."

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Duffee was one of the hottest prospects in all of MMA when he knocked out Tim Hague in seven seconds back in 2009. He was mysteriously released from the UFC a year later after a stunning loss to Mike Russow, but returned to knock out Philip De Fries at UFC 155 on Dec. 29, 2012.

Duffee doesn’t care about who he’ll fight in his first fight back. The former college football player just wants to get back into the Octagon.

"My major focus is just getting healthy and if I can just fight," Duffee said, "I’ll be one of the happiest guys in the world."