If you ever bump into Emily Whitmire, ask her about her favorite memories of her time on The Ultimate Fighter 26. There’s a hilarious anecdote that involves Snoop Dogg and Starbursts, but it’s probably best told offline.
Needless to say, participating in The Ultimate Fighter can feel like a pressure cooker, and it extends beyond fighting your roommates several times in a few short weeks.
“I don’t think people realize, we don’t have music, TV, books…there’s nothing to do,” she explains. “There’s no doors on the bedrooms. It was a hard, hard thing to do.”
But the cast of TUF 26: A New World Champion was visibly one of the most close-knit in the show’s history, and those rare moments of levity stand out in Whitmire’s mind. She thinks of one a little more PG-rated.
“One really awesome one was me and Rachael Ostovich; we both fought the same day and we both won. And then later Dana [White] came to the house and he let us drive his car. Well, I drove the car, so I had me, Rachael and Shana Dobson in the front seat, and Dana, Nicco [Montano] and one of the TUF House workers in the back. And I was driving 100mph down Sahara, no ID, no nothing. I was like ‘I hope I get pulled over right now, the look on the cop’s face will be amazing.’ I didn’t get pulled over, but that was one of my favorite memories.”
TUF may not have ended the way Whitmire had hoped, but her considerable skills were evident, and it was more than enough to get her into the UFC. She’s put together back-to-back wins in the strawweight division, with the most recent being one of the most beautiful rear-naked chokes 2019 has produced thus far, a first-round finish of Alexandra Albu on February’s UFC Phoenix card.
“I think people know at Xtreme Couture, we’re pretty known for our back-takes. Miesha Tate won the title with the back-take, and that’s something our gym is pretty good at, and something I’ve really tapped into these last few years.”
That might be true, but it didn’t keep the moment from being special.
“How surreal…I just could not believe I got the submission like that.”
Kron Gracie would get the performance bonus for a similar submission on that same card. Whitmire laughs good-naturedly at this perceived injustice.
“To be honest, I was a little bummed that I didn’t get the bonus because my choke was way better than Kron Gracie’s. And everyone knew that’s what he was supposed to do, and I shocked the world. Hopefully I get a little more spotlight on that submission as time goes on.”
The Oregon native will get another shot at a performance bonus Saturday when she stands across the Octagon from Amanda Ribas. Ribas has compiled a formidable 6-1 pro record, but hasn’t fought since 2016. Whether or not ring rust is a real phenomenon, Whitmire will soon find out.
“Not fighting for so long can go two ways. It could either give you a lot of nerves, and you kinda panic like maybe your first fight. Or you’re so excited to fight that you have no pre-fight nerves and you’re ready to go do it. I’m not banking on her having ring rust. I’ve been training hard, and I know she’s been training hard. So I think it’s just going to come down to who has the better skill that night and who wants it more.”
It’s hard to imagine someone wanting it more than Whitmire. To allow herself to fully pursue her dream full-time, she still occasionally waits tables in Las Vegas to make it a reality.
“Serving is a really hard job, and I’ve done it to get where I am. I owe a lot to that job, and I am willing to put myself through that hell to do what I love. Without that job I wouldn’t be able to have the freedom to train like I have been for the last five years. I’m willing to put myself through some pretty awful things just to be here,” she says with a laugh.
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve