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Joseph Duffy on concussion suffered before UFC Dublin: 'I can still remember the combo that hit me'

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Esther Lin / MMAFighting

Joseph Duffy was primed for a career-defining moment.

Taking on Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC Fight Night 76 in Dublin, Ireland, the Irishman Duffy had the opportunity to fight a name opponent on an intimate stage – directly under the spotlight of thousands of adoring hometown fans.

Just days before the fight, however, Duffy suffered a concussion in training, denying him this chance and forcing him off the card.

"I was… ‘numb’ would be the main word, I would say just heartbroken," Duffy told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I’d been away from here [Ireland] for about 12 weeks working my ass off and trying to get in shape. I wanted to go to Ireland and put on a show for the fans. To me, it feels like it was my coming up. I was going to put myself in them rankings."

As fate would dictate, however, Duffy would need to take a break from combat. With the UFC placing a growing emphasis on fighter safety, Duffy's concussion would prevent him from fighting, no matter how good he felt leading up to the bout.

"After it [the concussion] happened, we did a trial on the pads on Monday, and I felt good," Duffy said. "I got on the plane with the intentions of fighting. As far as I was concerned, when I was on the way over, I was going there to fight. I felt good, but unfortunately, obviously the doctors didn’t see me fit to compete on the weekend."

Despite Duffy's positive outlook, he recognized that the shot during sparring was unlike a normal blow to the head. This one was different, more serious, and his coaches and teammates all knew immediately that they had a potential problem on their hands.

"[It was] just one of them shots that I didn’t see, you know, put me down," Duffy said. "For a split second I was down, then I was up, and that was it...I know Firas and Eric spoke to one of the doctors who trains at the gym. He gave a bit of advice and we just kind of followed the protocol from there, really.

"As soon as it happened, I knew what happened. I can still remember the combo that hit me. It was a flash knockdown. Obviously at the minute, there’s a big thing with concussions, and people are taking them pretty serious, so in this day and age, I think that’s what it is. I think they see that brain trauma is a major issue, and they’re trying to eradicate any further damage."

After boarding the plane to Ireland, Duffy held out hope that just maybe he'd be cleared to compete. When the team landed and Duffy went through a variety of tests and procedures, however, it was clear he wouldn't be partaking in the weekend's festivities – not as a competitor, at least.

"As soon as I got off the plane, I had a few bits and pieces to do, and then immediately I was taken for an MRI," Duffy said. "Later on that day then, I went back to another hospital, and [we did] a CAT scan, then the following day, which was the Wednesday, we did a concussion test, which was a few different bits and pieces. The doctors put you through little tests, basically testing reflexes, different ways of gauging how bad your concussion’s along.

"I’m assuming [that I failed the concussion test]. I’m assuming it was the last test that it was. I know the last doctor, he said, ‘You have got a mild concussion.’ As soon as I heard them words, I had a bad feeling. [I’m] assuming it was the last test that put the nail in the coffin."

Duffy admitted he'd only suffered a knockdown like the one that forced him out of UFC Dublin once before, in the first round of a boxing match in Germany he'd go on to win. In this instance though, Duffy's clean concussion history meant nothing, and he could do little more than apologize, regroup and support his teammates competing at the event.

"It was really tough, especially seeing the crowd, hearing the crowd, and just thinking, ‘I should be in there. I shouldn’t be sat here. I should be in the thick of this experience,'" he said. "So it was very tough. I had a teammate, Tom Breese and Stevie Ray were fighting. I wanted to be there and support them lads...Obviously, if I missed their fights – both of them got big wins – I would have been devastated. That was my main incentive for staying."

The Irishman also made it a point to seek out Poirier and let him know exactly what happened.

"I just went up and, obviously it was last-minute news to him," Duffy said. "At the time I kind of felt responsible for the whole thing, so I just said, ‘Look, I’m sorry that we can’t get it on,’ basically. I just explained to him what happened and I said, ‘Look, hopefully we can get this fight on again in the future.’ He was cool about it. He knows that’s the sport we’re in."

Duffy got his wish, and the two are rescheduled to face off Jan. 2 at UFC 195. Duffy said he can resume normal training and sparring Nov. 14, and when that date comes, it will be all systems go at Tristar Gym.

"I’ll be out at Tristar full-time now," he said. "I leave again on Wednesday. I’ll be back out, and that’s it, and I’m pretty much going to be there full-time. I’ve got a condo there now as well, so all my training’s going to be done at Tristar.

"I think it was the fight we both wanted. I feel it’s an exciting fight just in general. It’s a fight that suits us both, it’s a fight that the fans talked about. I think it’d be good to get closure on that fight."