Neil Melanson chooses MMA over body part

Say ta-ta to that toe: Neil Melanson's left foot has seen better days. Brett Okamoto/ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Rest in peace, Neil Melanson’s second toe on his left foot. You’re in a better place.

After enduring more abuse than any toe should, Melanson’s is officially gone. The head jiu-jitsu trainer at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, best known for his work with Randy Couture, had it removed last week after it became arthritic due to a severely damaged joint.

Had he been willing to stay off the mats for approximately one year, Melanson likely could have avoided amputation. But when given a choice between 365 days away from training or forfeiting the Little Piggy who Stayed Home, he chose the latter.

“I broke it in the first tournament I ever competed in,” Melanson told ESPN.com. “Then over the years I broke it again and two years ago it snapped. It just didn’t want to live I guess.

“It’s really not a big deal to me. It’s just a toe. I guess when you love the sport and you’re committed to it, you don’t let little things like toes get in the way.”

Here’s the story.

Two summers ago, Melanson was teaching a grappling class in Las Vegas as he regularly does. In the middle of a light rolling session, one of his students inexplicably grabbed the ill-fated toe while attemptimg a leglock and snapped it across its neighboring big toe.

On the spot, Melanson snapped the toe back into place and wrapped it. He did not go to a doctor, because Couture was in the middle of a training camp for Antonio Nogueira at UFC 102 in Portland -- something he was not about to abandon.

Eventually the damaged toe healed but at an angle overlapping the big toe, in a way one might lie two logs in a fireplace. It became very painful, even to walk. That’s when Melanson finally sought medical attention.

“The only thing they could try, is put screws in it to straighten it out, but that would be up to a year of downtime,” he said. “The doctor thought I was a little nuts because he was like, ‘Well, don’t you want to keep that thing?’ I just said, ‘I can’t take a year off.’

“He didn’t cut through any bone. They cut into the foot at the lowest joint possible and then sow all the webbing between the toes. So, it looks like a Ninja Turtle foot or something.”

You’d think sacrificing a body part for one’s love of the sport would earn Melanson more respect from his peers. Yes, you’d think that, wouldn’t you?

Actually what it’s got him are a few new nicknames. UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione, who recently spent a month training in Las Vegas, referred to him solely as “nine-toed Neil.”

Melanson doesn’t mind though. In fact, the biggest disappointment of this entire ordeal is the Nevada clinic that performed the operation wouldn’t let him keep the toe post-surgery. Not that it carried any sympathetic value, but he and Couture had big plans for the little guy.

“Me and Randy wanted to have it embalmed and make a plaque to hang in the bathroom of the gym,” Melanson said. “But I would have to apply for a permit. Everybody thinks I kept it; they didn’t know I couldn’t get it done. Me and Randy were pretty excited about that idea.”