It was well publicized that Joe Riggs sustained self-inflicted gun-shot wounds at his Arizona house on the evening of July 28th. What wasn’t well publicized was the truth of what happened that night.
I had the unique opportunity to sit with Joe and get the entire story.
Aaron Robbins: Hey Joe, thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me.
Joe Riggs: “No problem buddy.”
AR: Joe at this point most people know that you are recovering from your injury, but it seems that everybody has their own theory about what happened that night. Some of the assumptions are reasonable while others are downright hateful. Could you please take fans through exactly what happened that night and put the rumors to rest?
JR: “Sure of course, you know people are mean man, some of the things that were said about me I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy.
“I think it was three days after I signed with the UFC, which was my goal, I mean so many people had written me off so making a big come back and getting back to the UFC was really important to me, you know?
“This is what actually happened. One of my friends had cocked the gun at the gym. We had to get back to practice, so the gun’s safety was set and it was put back in my backpack. When I get home I always unload my gun and make sure there isn’t a round in the tube, but the gun was jammed and the round would not come out of the pistol. Now this is a pretty big gun, it’s a 1911 Sig Sauer .45, I’ve only run one clip through it, so it’s not beat up or anything, it’s a brand new gun. So, I go to taking it apart, keep in mind I’m more or less a life-long gun owner, it’s not like I’m a novice. I was sitting down and putting together my UFC contract, putting the pages in order. I was watching The Bachelor (laughs) and I was eating blueberries, so I wasn’t fully concentrating on taking the gun apart like I should’ve been. So, when I took the gun apart the hammer was back, I had it on safety but for some reason my finger must’ve touched the trigger. The pistol was stuck so I had to pull on it in both directions with my hands. My hand was over the barrel, so the parts didn’t fall all over when I removed the slide. While I was trying to get the pistol apart it fired.
“At first I didn’t even realize I had shot myself in the hand, all I saw was my leg. I know about the femoral artery so I was like f***. Believe it or not, the very first thought that went through my mind was Joe Silva. The reason he was reluctant to have me back is because I have been inconsistent, I pulled out of a lot of fights, and he told me that couldn’t happen anymore and then this happens. I know that’s crazy, but that was my first thought. So, I got up for some reason I was running around the house like a f***ing idiot, I was naked and with every heartbeat blood was spurting out of my leg. I must’ve been in shock because I actually sat on the couch thinking I could get it under control. As I sat there the blood was coming out of my leg with enough force to hit me in my face. It finally dawned on me that I had to wake my wife up, so I get up and open the door and I say ‘Lisa wake up, I just shot myself call 911’ and at that point I collapsed.
“I was lying on the floor, and I had lost a lot of blood. The pain was gone and I started just wanting to go to sleep. That’s what happens when you’re dying, you just want to sleep. My wife, Lisa, pretty much had her fist in the hole in my leg trying to get the bleeding to stop. She (Lisa) was actually trying to get in there and pinch off the artery. At this point I didn’t think I was dying, I knew I was dying, I had accepted it. I asked Lisa to wake our son up so I could say goodbye to him. I was eerily calm, it was very weird. My son came out, now I feel horrible because of what he had to see. I was covered in blood, and my seven year old son sits down next to me. I gave him a hug. I told him that I was dying, but that I was proud of him and that I would always love him, and that I would always be with him. I can’t even imagine processing something like that at that age. He sat and watched the entire thing for over twenty minutes. He was there while the EMTs were working on me and he is up on the couch pulling his hair out. It was a f***ed up thing man, it was horrible. I’ll tell you what man during that staying alive was hard, I wanted to go to sleep and the guys working on me kept me awake. I mean honestly at that point I had made peace with dying. I was ready to go and when I finally lost consciousness I felt no worldly stress and an immense amount of love, and it was just a crazy feeling. Then I woke up in the trauma room and I was back in a lot of f***ing pain (laughs). They told me at one point my heart was beating like only 4 or 6 times a minute, it was really bad and I almost died but I made it through.”
AR: Wow Joe, I am speechless. That is an incredible story, and I’m so grateful for you walking me through what must be one of the most difficult stories to tell. I really hope that after reading this that all of the rumors surrounding that night stop. I’ve got a feeling there are a lot of people out there that owe you an apology for what they may have said.
JR: “Yeah dude you can’t believe some of the shit people have said to me or about me. I got a letter on my door after it happened that said ‘I wish you would’ve shot yourself in the head and your son would’ve saw that’ and on the letter was a picture they had made of me getting shot with a gun. What f***ing kind of a person would do that, you know? That’s just one example of the hundreds of terrible things people have said after this happened. I’m not saying that there haven’t been people saying positive things as well, but there are a lot of f***ed up people out there. I mean there was this one guy trying to re-create how I shot myself on YouTube, there were people saying I was trying to kill myself, and I can’t tell you how many times I read that this happened while I was trying to clean the gun. I wasn’t cleaning the gun. Nobody cleans a f***ing loaded gun!”
AR: Yeah, I can’t wrap my mind around why there was so much negativity surrounding an already tragic event. Do you mind if I ask how your son is doing after being witness to that?
JR: “My son has taken this very hard. He is suffering from PTSD now, but it was a delayed reaction. When I was in the hospital he kept saying to my wife ‘be honest, is my dad dead?’ he thought I was dead and that she was lying to him. He has really bad separation anxiety. He doesn’t want to leave my side. It’s really sad that he had to go through this. I have to be honest though, besides my son living through that, if there was a way to wave a magic wand and none of this happened, I was getting ready to fight and I had never been shot, I wouldn’t change what happened. This experience has had a profound effect on the person I am. It’s changed me right to the core.”
AR: I can’t even imagine what an event like that can do to a person. Once again Joe, thank you for your candor. Now let’s focus on a more positive aspect of this story. From what I understand you are blowing away the doctor’s expectations and making a near miraculous recovery.
JR: “I am absolutely surprising them. I was Medivacked out of here and my hand surgeon, who is the best in the country, looked at my hand, and he told my wife that I need two hands to fight and I only have one, so my career as a fighter was over. She never told me that, but I had seen my hand and it looked like something out of a fucking horror movie. Now that first day all they did was stabilize my hand and schedule the surgery for the next day. After the surgery the doctor said ‘I don’t know how it’s possible, he’s got a lot of metal in his hand, but he’ll be able to fight again.’ he wasn’t even sure how he was able to put my hand back together that well, but it was a total success. Once I knew I could fight again, I set my sights on December, but when I said that to the doctors they kind of laughed at me. Now I set my mind on December not only because the event is in Arizona, but I want to fight to prove to people that no matter what happens, you can overcome it.
“The doctors are astounded by my recovery, for example, last week I had my grip strength tested. My right hand measured about 200 pounds of pressure for grip strength and my left was only at about 20 pounds, that’s horrible. Today I had it tested and it was at 110 pounds. I’m healing really fast. I was actually sparring today, I’m fucking sparring and it’s been just over a month. I also ran seven miles today, I’m doing things that they said would be medically impossible for me to do this soon after the injury.”
AR: Joe, I’m sorry, did you just tell me you ran seven miles today?
JR: “Yeah (laughs) yeah I did. I know it’s crazy because there was a hole blown in my leg a month ago, but yes I’m already running.”
AR: Ok, wow! That is amazing. So earlier you mentioned fighting in December, is that happening?
JR: Yeah actually it’s the first time the UFC has held an event in Arizona so I feel really blessed to be on the card.”
AR: Do you know who your opponent is?
JR: “I don’t, I really don’t. I talked with Joe Silva and he is waiting until I get my medical release from the hand surgeon and I see him Tuesday September 9th. The UFC will announce my opponent after that, but honestly I don’t care who it is. It doesn’t matter because once you come as close to dying as I have, what is there to be afraid of? There’s nothing.”
For the latest in sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.
Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for? GO!