“My first amateur fight, it was a brutal knockout,” he recalled. “I landed this overhand right, and in the interview I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been working that left hook all day.’ (Laughs) I didn’t even know what I hit him with.”
It’s the mystery of the perfect punch. Some say landing one almost feels like you missed the blow. Others say it’s like playing a video game where you’re controlling your opponent. Emmett, who faces Jeremy Stephens in this Saturday’s UFC on FOX main event in Orlando, knows those feelings.
“When I got knockouts in the past, they are the ones you don’t realize,” he said, but when he knocked out Ricardo Lamas with a single shot in December, “I knew right away.”
And he finally got that left hook knockout he thought he had back in his amateur days.
“This one, we were working things, and all I did was bring back that left hook because I missed with the overhand right,” said Emmett of the punch that changed everything for him.
An unbeaten prospect who started his career off at featherweight, Emmett eventually moved to lightweight and that’s when he got the call to the UFC, as he made a short notice debut against Jon Tuck in May 2016. Emmett won that fight, then beat Scott Holtzman before losing the first and only fight of his pro career to Desmond Green. Despite the controversial nature of the decision, Emmett decided that a change was needed, so he returned to 145 pounds.
“The Lamas fight was the longest I had ever gone without a finish and I was overdue for one,” he said. “That’s why I made the move to ’45. When I was fighting at featherweight earlier in my career I would be finishing people. Then I went to ’55 and I was doing well and I had some knockouts there as well, but in the UFC, they were physically bigger people and I’d hit them so hard and wobble them, but I knew if I go down to featherweight and I’m on the average to bigger end of the spectrum, none of them would be able to handle the power I possess, and I showed that in the Arantes fight, and I knew when I started finding my timing and landing some punches on Lamas, I could just tell that he didn’t like it.”
A decision win over Felipe Arantes marked his reintroduction to the 145-pound weight class last October. Then he got a short notice call to face Lamas. He took it. He won. Big.
And as soon as the punch landed and the fight was over, Emmett was a featherweight contender and a testament to staying the course and being ready when the time came for his big opportunity.
“I got a lot of messages and it’s kind of cool how people are telling me that I inspire them or I’m their favorite fighter, and this is coming from people all over the world,” he said. “So to me it’s kind of crazy because it felt like it was just another fight. I feel like I’ve been competing my whole life. I’ve been fighting for a long time, but it was on a big platform where more people were able to watch it. But it is really neat to me, I enjoy it, and I want to give people hope and I want to inspire others. It’s cliché but I feel that if you really stick to something and you believe in the process, whatever the mind can conceive you can achieve.”
Now ranked No. 4 in the world, Emmett steps in this weekend with the veteran Stephens, who enters the fight in the No. 7 spot at 145 pounds. But don’t call Emmett the favorite.
“He’s a veteran, he’s battle-tested and he’s fought the Who’s Who at ’45 and ’55,” Emmett said of his opponent. “So the rankings mean absolutely nothing to me. Anyone can lose on any given day. Whether I’m fighting the champion or the guy ranked last in the division, it’s a risky fight. These are the top fighters in the world.”
Emmett is one of them, and the reason why he’s made it this far is that he refuses to lose the underdog mentality that has served him well so far.
“When I was in college, I upset the number four-ranked guy in the country (in wrestling) before Nationals, so I know it’s another fight and that’s why everything seems the same to me,” he said. “I just have this No. 4 next to my name that doesn’t really mean much to me. There’s only one thing I want next to my name and that’s the C, and then I’ll feel like I accomplished a lot and then I’ll have to set new goals and defend that title several times as well.”