Seven weeks ago, Josh Emmett posted a picture on his Instagram page of himself and Calvin Kattar, the man he faces in this weekend’s main event, with a caption that reads, “I’ve been working my ass off for the last 4 years to get back here! See you in 7 weeks Austin.”
“I feel like I was here four years ago — I was ranked fourth in the world, I was one shot away from fighting for the title, and then I had a little minor setback,” said Emmett when asked about the post.
Describing what has transpired in the four-plus years between his first main event assignment and this one, his second, is akin to suggesting that The Wire was just an okay show.
Emmett’s first main event came on February 24, 2018, against Jeremy Stephens. He was fresh off a first-round knockout win over former title challenger and divisional stalwart Ricardo Lamas and brandishing a shiny 13-1 record.
He won the opening round, dropping Stephens with a sharp counter right hand before chasing him to the canvas, hunting for a finish that never materialized, but getting off to the quality start he was looking for in what was then the biggest fight of his career. Everything was going as planned right up until it all changed in a flash.
Stephens connected with a left hand that put Emmett on the deck, and in his rush to secure the finish, the veteran unleashed a torrent of strikes that included some questionable blows before driving home a pair of hellacious elbows that finally brought the fight to a halt.
Emmett was sidelined for more than a year dealing with numerous injuries, but it was the lingering vertigo that really worried him.
“Bones will heal with time,” said Emmett, who hasn’t lost since that encounter with Stephens and carries a four-fight winning streak into Saturday’s showdown with Kattar. “I almost lost my eye and still don’t have feeling in my face in certain parts, but it was the vertigo that scared me.
The Rise Of Josh Emmett
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The Rise Of Josh Emmett
“It scared me that I was never going to get back to an elite level, where I’m supposed to be. I couldn’t walk or jog. I couldn’t sit up out of bed without getting sick and dizzy and feeling like the ground was moving, so that scared the hell out of me.”
He eventually worked his way back to full health and the Octagon, collecting stoppage wins over Michael Johnson and Mirsad Bektic to set up a clash with emerging action fighter Shane Burgos in the summer of 2020.
Less than 30 seconds into the contest, Emmett blew out his knee.
Three rounds later, he got his hand raised in the center of the Octagon before heading to the sidelines for another extended period of time.
“With the ACL, I had crazy complications with that where I was ahead of schedule right out of the gate, thinking, ‘I’m going to be the Adrian Peterson of MMA and come back and fight in four months,’” said Emmett, who tried to emulate the future Hall of Fame running back who made an incredibly fast return to the field following a similar injury several years earlier. “It turned out that my patella tendon never healed, and my patella had a huge hole in it still, so I had to go back and start over again six months later.
“I had doubts in my head, but every day, I got up,” he said. “I didn’t want to do this stuff, but I tried to get a little better every day, and just worked and worked and worked. The PT over that 18 months was tougher than any fight camp.”
What pushed Emmett was a desire to get back to this point and continue chasing the dream he’s carried since venturing into the sport more than a decade ago: to be a world champion.
The 37-year-old was a fan before he was a fighter, and he started competing at a later age than most. He’d wrestled at Menlo College, the alma mater of current UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza and Emmett’s long-time friend, teammate, and now coach, Danny Castillo, and thought he could find some success inside the cage.
From the outset, the Sacramento native was driven to be the best fighter he could possibly be, but he was also hyper-realistic when it came to looking at his future inside the cage.
“If I lost an amateur fight, I was done fighting,” said Emmett, who made two amateur appearances before turning pro. “When I was 5-0, 6-0, if I would have lost a fight, I would have been done. My goal was to get to the UFC and be a world champion, and if I couldn’t beat an amateur fighter, I would have given it up.”
He didn’t lose.
In his ninth professional bout, Emmett defeated Christos Giagos in his first bout following a three-fight run on the UFC roster, earning himself a call to the Octagon. He’d add wins over Jon Tuck and Scott Holtzman to his resume before suffering his first loss — a split decision setback against Desmond Green at UFC 210 that prompted a move to featherweight.
Having proven he could get to the big stage and compete, one defeat wasn’t going to stop him from continuing to chase his goals.
Four years after his second loss and having dealt with myriad obstacles and injuries along the way, Emmett is like Mike McDermott at the end of Rounders, except his “three stacks of high society” is a main event clash with Kattar on Saturday.
“I’m grateful for him taking the fight because I wanted to fight forward,” he said of his opponent this weekend, who sits three spots ahead of him in the featherweight rankings and is coming off a unanimous decision win over Giga Chikadze in January. “Calvin’s a dog — he’s a tough, technical fighter. He’s constantly fighting people behind him because I feel like he feels he’s one of the best, and I know I’m the best fighter, so I’m grateful for him accepting the fight, fighting backwards in the rankings.
“I’ve only fought one person that was ranked in front of me at featherweight, so this will be the second. I’m going to do everything in my power to get my hand raised on June 18,” he added. “I’m trying to accomplish what I set out to do and that’s be a world champion, and I’m right back to where I feel like I should be.”
UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs Emmett, took place on Saturday, June 18, 2022, live from the Moody Center in Austin, Texas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!