It was a punch he'd thrown a thousand times before, but the one Jeff Hougland threw this past Sunday as he was training for his upcoming Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) match-up was off.
"Sunday was my last hard day of training," Hougland, owner of Enumclaw's said. "I did cardio and that was fine. Within the first minute of sparring though, I threw a punch ... and partially clipped my partner's head with my thumb and heard this loud pop."
He'd put all his power behind that thumb, he said, and thought he'd broken it since he'd done something similar eight years ago and heard a similar pop.
But the X-rays showed no breaks. It wasn't until he saw a hand specialist on Monday that it was apparent he'd essentially torn all the tendons that hold the thumb together, he said.
Now, instead of packing and getting ready for only his second fight in the UFC against bantamweight opponent and UFC newcomer Mike Easton -- which would have been this Saturday in Washington, D.C., he's waiting for hand surgery. (Hougland won his first UFC match this past summer in a 3-round unanimous decision in Las Vegas. Read .)
"It sucks," he said. "I trained really hard for this fight and for this to happen on the last day just sucks."
It's hard to let go, and though he couldn't even make a fist -- let alone do a push up -- Hougland said he still considered fighting.
"The thought had crossed my mind," he said, but quickly dismissing that he couldn't go up against Easton with one good hand. "He's a dangerous opponent. The UFC takes the best guys. It's like driving with a flat tire."
The fighters get paid to fight, so missing out on this event means Hougland takes a financial hit. And as someone who genuinely loves the sport, it's disappointing to say the least.
"Now I'm sitting on the couch," he said. "And I don't get paid. I need the money to help take care of my wife and family."
Luckily, Hougland credits his many sponsors, including Waterson Excavating, Stanley Striping, Room 25 Lounge, Howells Chiropractic and Pro Performance Physical Therapy for sticking by him.
"If it wasn't for them, I'd be hurting."
At present, Hougland believes he'll be out of commission for the next six to eight weeks but hopes to be back in shape and ready for a fight early next year.
Meanwhile, he isn't really sitting on the couch -- at least not for long. As owner of Combat Sports & Fitness, he's come to mentor several up and coming fighters who have their own bouts coming up in October, including Rumble on the Ridge at Snoqualmie Casino and Northwest Fight Challenge in Tumwater. Both events take place October 15. "I'll be coaching and cornering for the guys," he said.