Josh Emmett (second from R) (Josh Emmett/Facebook page)

Josh Emmett: ‘It Was the UFC or Nothing’

The life of a fighter certainly comes with a variety of complexities and multiple challenges. However, this life can also be very simple and straightforward. Wake up, eat, train, rest, train, and do it all again the next day. That’s what life has always been and continues to be for UFC featherweight Josh Emmett as he finds unique ways to continue his training during the coronavirus pandemic.

“My schedule and routine kind of feels the same,” Emmett told Combat Press. “I have the same routine. I get up, eat, workout, eat, and then get in another workout, whether it’s in my garage, going on a run, or getting in a one-on-one session with a coach. So, for me, things have remained generally the same besides nothing being open.”

Emmett has been a lifelong fan of MMA and was determined to make a career out of the sport from an early age.


“I remember watching UFC fights when I was in high school back in 1999, 2000,” Emmett recalled. “I was also from a young age playing many sports and very athletic. My sport was wrestling. By high school, I was playing football, baseball and wrestling and then decided to really focus on wrestling for the rest of high school.”

Emmett excelled in his high school wrestling career and continued on once he joined the Sacramento City College team. A chance encounter with MMA legend Urijah Faber would ultimately influence Emmett’s direction in life..

“My second year at Sacramento City College back in 2005, I remember Urijah coming to one of our wrestling meets [and] handing out flyers for his new gym, Ultimate Fitness,” said Emmett. “There was really nothing left for me to do in wrestling. I wrestled since I was 11 and up until junior college, and it was time for the next step. I went to Ultimate Fitness, signed up for a year in advance, and started taking the general-population classes for boxing and kickboxing.”

Three months into his training at Ultimate Fitness, Emmett had made an impression with the coaching staff. Faber approached him about pursuing a career in fighting.

“He told me he had been watching me and saw a lot of potential in me,” Emmett said. “He asked me if I was thinking about fighting, and I told him that’s what I am here for. I was invited to train with the pros in the pro classes.”

During this time, Emmett was still being heavily recruited by the wrestling programs at several schools from the Midwest and East Coast. However, he had little desire to move so far away from home. Instead, he decided to attend Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., from 2007 to 2010.

“I knew I wanted to fight,” said Emmett. “In case the fighting didn’t work out, I figured I would get my degree, hone my wrestling skills, which would translate to fighting, and then get back to the fighting when I am ready.”

Emmett graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and was finally ready to return to training in 2010. It was several months before he had his first amateur fight. He was matched with a highly regarded prospect out of American Kickboxing Academy.

“I remember AKA guys, including Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch and Phil Baroni, being ringside here to watch this guy I am fighting,” recalled Emmett. “This was supposed to be a setup fight for him. I remember telling Danny Castillo, who was cornering me, if it’s bad that I am not nervous. I ended up knocking the guy out.”

Emmett finished his opponent with a devastating overhand right and impressed the audience. He went on to train several more months before winning his second amateur fight and deciding to go pro. His first pro outing took place at Faber’s gym.

“About 30 seconds in, I took the guy down and hit him on his forehead at a weird angle and completely snapped my second metacarpal in half,” said Emmett. “I remember my hand just flopping in my glove. It was pretty painful.”

Emmett returned to his corner and informed them of what had transpired. Their advice? Use the other hand and take him down. Emmett did just that and secured his first pro victory via unanimous decision against Emilio Gonzalez.

Emmett suffered another injury to the same hand before his next scheduled fight and was sidelined for 10 months. Then, in 2013, he went on a streak that would launch his professional aspirations into new territory.

“I just went on a run in West Coast Fighting Championship,” Emmett explained. “I would fight as often as possible. I fought at [145 pounds, 155] and even twice at welterweight.”

The Arizona native compiled a 7-0 record fighting across three different weight classes. He eventually had to settle on one division to call home, though.

“I was always going to go featherweight and was prepared to make weight,” Emmett admitted. “A lot of times my opponents wouldn’t be able to make weight, so we’d have to agree to a catchweight, which I had no problem with.”

Meanwhile, Faber pushed for the UFC to sign his protege. Emmett switched his focus to pursue a spot on The Ultimate Fighter 22, the season that featured his mentor opposite Conor McGregor as the coaches. After clearing all medical exams and trying out for the show, Emmett was ultimately not picked.

“They basically told me my record was too good for the show, so instead I just helped Faber coach the USA team as best as I could,” said Emmett. “I kept fighting at [155 pounds], because I knew if I got a short-notice call from the UFC or to appear on the show as a contestant, it would be really difficult to make 45 in a short time frame, and I didn’t want to kill my body with the weigh cuts at the beginning of my career.”

Emmett kept trucking along on the regional circuit. Still, it proved difficult for him to find opponents with similar records to his own.

“I was having to fight guys with a ton of more fights than me so I could improve my record,” he explained. “I fought guys like Christos Giagos and Rocky Johnson, who had double-digit fights, and beat them. I was taking these fights because I knew if I wanted to get to the UFC, I had to show I could beat these experienced guys.”

Emmett kept piling on the wins to compile a 9-0 record by the end of January 2016. He had established himself as a top prospect in the sport.

“I got into this sport later than a lot of people [my] age,” Emmett admitted. “My first amateur fight, I was 26. I knew I had to win these fights or else it would set me back too much due to my later start.

“My only goal was to make it to the UFC. I got offers from other organizations, like Bellator. For me it was the UFC or nothing. That’s what I set out to do.”

Emmett’s goal came to fruition on five days’ notice when he was tasked with getting to the Netherlands to face Jon Tuck as a replacement for an injured Nick Hein. He won the fight via split decision and finally launched his UFC career. It didn’t come easy, though, as he suffered one of the worst hand injuries in UFC history due to a spinning back kick courtesy of Tuck.

The Phoenix native put together a 2-1 record in the UFC lightweight division before returning to featherweight against Felipe Arantes. Emmett defeated Arantes via unanimous decision and decided it was time to formally remain in the division where he originally wished to compete. In late 2017, Emmett posted his most famous victory in what was certainly a defining moment in his career. It came against Ricardo Lamas, the No. 3 featherweight at the time, at UFC on Fox 26.

“I actually replaced [José] Aldo in that fight,” said Emmett. “Aldo took the rematch with Max [Holloway], so I got the call to replace Aldo and face Lamas.”

Emmett was unsurprisingly an underdog against the perennial contender Lamas. It didn’t seem to bother the rising star, who scored a knockout with a picture-perfect overhand-right and left-hook combination in the final minute of round one.

“That’s one of my favorite moments,” Emmett confessed. “That and my UFC debut. Everyone has always counted me out. But my coach and my team, they knew what I was going to do.”

There’s an interesting subplot to the Lamas fight as well.

“Most people don’t know that when I was an amateur, I was one of the main sparring partners for Chad Mendes, T.J. Dillashaw, Danny Castillo and Urijah Faber,” said Emmett. “They knew what I was capable of. Before the Lamas fight, Urijah made a bet with [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby and told him I would beat Lamas, and Sean took the bet thinking there was no way. Well, you know what happened.”

Emmett’s next fight was a war with Jeremy Stephens in the headliner of UFC on Fox 28. The Team Alpha Male fighter lost the contest despite dropping Stephens in the first round.

“I learned a lot from that fight,” Emmett admitted. “I dropped him in the first and remember thinking I have four more rounds to win. Reflecting on it, I should have been aggressive and gone in for the finish. I will never let that happen again.”

After the setback, Emmett took a year off to undergo some facial surgeries before returning to the Octagon in March 2019. He faced longtime UFC veteran Michael Johnson and won the bout via knockout in the third round. He launched a looping overhand right that removed Johnson from consciousness before the veteran even hit the mat. Emmett followed up this performance with a first-round knockout of top-15 featherweight Mirsad Bektic. Now at No. 8 in the featherweight rankings, Emmett is hoping to land a fight that puts him in a position to earn a shot at UFC gold.

“That’s always been my goal,” he said. “I have always wanted to be a UFC champion. I just want my shot — really, anyone who puts me closer to that opportunity. I think I match up well with [Alexander] Volkanovski. We are very similar, and it would be an exciting fight. Give me a top-five [opponent], a top-three. I’ll seize the moment.”

Emmett was most recently linked to a fight with Edson Barboza on May 2 at UFC Fight Night 174. However, he revealed that no bout agreement had been signed.

“I never got offered to fight Barboza in Oklahoma, so that was never going to happen,” he stated.

Currently, Emmett has only one fight left on his UFC contract. He is in the midst of negotiating a new eight-fight deal that would lock him up with the UFC for several years.

“My whole thing was, if it made sense and they gave me the new contract I want, I will fight Barboza,” explained Emmett. “I’ll take it if it makes sense. If I don’t get the contract that I am pursuing from a business standpoint, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, because I have little to gain. I’ve been doing this so long now that it is about making the right financial decisions as well.”

Emmett has not fought since last July, but he wants to get back into the Octagon as quickly as possible. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full surge, the UFC has postponed all upcoming events. However, UFC President Dana White has been adamant about putting on fights on a private island to resume the UFC schedule as quickly as possible.

“I’d want to be on the first card,” admitted Emmett. “It would be crazy to look back on 2020 in the future and reflect on Dana White buying an island and flying all these fighters on a fleet of jets to compete in international waters. Yeah, I want to be a part of that.”

When Emmett is not fighting or in camp, he enjoys the simple things in life. He also loves to travel. His tradition has been to take a big trip after a fight to further explore the world.

“My wife and I love to travel and explore new places,” said Emmett. “When we were in Vietnam, we went to a village called Sa Pa and did a three-day trek while staying with this family. It’s an eye-opener on how good we have it here and makes you appreciate what you have. Some of our favorite places we’ve been are definitely Italy and Thailand.”

Emmett also considers himself to be a big foodie and enjoys going down his personal list of foods to eat after a rigorous training camp and fight. His favorite is a local spot in Sacramento.

“We have a restaurant here in Sacramento called Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine,” he said. “The best sushi you will ever have.”

While home, Josh and his wife Vanessa enjoy spending time with friends, wine tasting, and kicking back with their French bulldog, Apollo.

Emmett has undoubtedly established himself as one of the hardest-hitting featherweights and a true contender for the featherweight throne. He places special emphasis on providing fans with memorable performances every time he steps foot in the Octagon.

“I always try to be exciting and entertaining in all my fights,” touted Emmett. “I know what fans want to see. That’s what got me to where I am at.”