Parrish Hartley knew better. He knew that you never put your toes on the mat when you’re fighting to stay awake in a triangle, because the likelihood of a foot injury increases exponentially.
Hartley knew better because his coach had told him so, countless times. Miguel Torres is a former WEC bantamweight champion and one of the greatest lighter-weight fighters of all time. But at Torres Martial Arts in Hammond, the Chicago-suburb gym where Hartley trains, Torres is simply known as coach. He instructs and teaches his legion of students while also using his time to better his own fighting craft, to try and get back to the place where he held championship gold and was considered one of the best pound for pound fighters in the entire sport.
But on this day, Torres was not in the gym. In fact, he wasn’t even in Hammond. He was in Arizona. Or maybe he was in Arkansas or Kansas or Nevada. It’s hard to say. Torres keeps up a busy schedule filled with public relations duties and jiujitsu seminars, all while trying to balance a fighting career of his own. It leaves him little time at home and that’s something he’d like to change, but for now he keeps up the grind.
Torres is doing his appearance when he receives a text from back in Hammond.
“Hey, Parrish is hurt pretty bad.”
Torres gets messages like these all the time. It’s one of the costs of doing business when your business is running a mixed martial arts gym. He sees broken fingers and noses and other assorted injuries all the time, so he thought nothing of this particular text. He’d given Hartley his blue belt just a few days ago.
“I was going to have him compete in his first tournament in a couple of weeks, and I just assumed everything was okay,” Torres says. “So I asked what happened. They said he hurt his foot really bad.”
Torres wasn’t sure what they meant, so he asked for clarification. The caller said that Hartley’s toe almost fell off.
Torres wasn’t sure what that meant. It was confusing. Surely there had to be some mistake. Torres simply needed the kind of clarification that only modern technology could bring.
“I asked them to send me a picture. And what I saw in that picture is what everyone else has now seen,” Torres says. “His toe is hanging off. It’s hanging by his skin.”
Torres immediately went into defensive mode. Torres is held accountable for injuries suffered under his roof, and it’s not an easy business to maintain. He immediately assumed that Hartley had caught his toe on an unsafe mat, that something in his own building has caused the injury. He figured that Hartley would sue him, so he called the people that run the gym in his absence to get the full story.
Hartley was training with a few guys in the gym, rolling and practicing sweeps. He isn’t one-hundred percent sure exactly what happened, and that’s understandable given the nature of the injury. You would forgive Hartley for blacking out from the pain and or the shock or the sight of seeing your own toe hanging to your foot by a small piece of skin.
“I was trying to turn out of a position. My toe was down against the mat. And when I went to spin and pick myself up, I’m not sure what happened,” Hartley says. “I’m not sure if the guy who had me had his foot wedged between my toe while I was spinning out. All I know is that I felt it pop.”
By “pop,” of course, Hartley means the moment when his toe was removed from his body.
The doctors called it an open dislocation. That seemed like a silly description for an injury where an appendage is hanging from your body by a piece of skin. Torres found the description to be a laughable understatement, but he was relieved to know that Hartley – and his newly re-attached toe – would be okay.
His next thought?
“I wanted to know if Parrish would let me tweet the picture,” Torres says.
Under the UFC’s newly-instituted social networking rules, bonuses are given out at the end of each quarter for good usage of Twitter. Fighters will receive money for adding the followers and for writing creative tweets; it’s the latter category that Torres is aiming for. His Twitter feed is a non-stop parade of graphic thoughts, hilarious pictures and the kind of messages that inspire Torres on a daily basis.
Torres knew that the photo would be a big hit if he were allowed to tweet it, so he approached Hartley.
“I asked him if he was alright, and he was cool about the whole thing. I asked him if I could tweet it, and he said to go ahead,” Torres says. “And of course, it became a huge hit.”
The graphic picture of Hartley’s severed/dislocated toe quickly made the rounds, becoming a huge hit on Twitter and other social networking sites. The original picture had over 10,000 views in the first two hours.
“I’ve seen broken arms and broken legs. I saw a guy get his ankle crunched in a gi tournament one time. I’ve seen arms bend in ways they should not be bent,” Torres says. “Those were bad injuries, but there was no bone piercing the skin. This was the worst injury I’ve ever seen in straight jiujitsu. If I were him, I would sue me. I’d sue someone. I’d sue something. It was crazy, man.”
Hartley remains remarkably good-natured about the entire ordeal, as he seems to be about everything else in life. Subsequent meetings with his surgeon give him the feeling that everything is going to be okay, and he might even be able to return to training in six months. He’s anxious to get back on the mat and continue learning.
The severity of the injury – and the fact that Torres wasn’t even in the same state when it occurred – isn’t stopping the former bantamweight champion from making light of the situation.
“It’s really funny because I told everyone that I did it,” Torres says with a laugh. “I told everyone that I put one of my students in a toe-hold, that I did a reverse toe-lock. I’m throwing out all kinds of stuff. We told everyone that we didn’t take him to the hospital by ambulance; we told them that we took him by toe truck.”