Josh Emmett and his wife Vanessa sat on the tarmac waiting to embark on a 20-plus hour trip to Vietnam and Taiwan wondering whether or not they should even follow through with it. The couple normally travels after Emmett competes, and even though he pulled out of his bout scheduled for late-January, the two figured they should still make good on their planned international trip.
The problem was, the coronavirus pandemic was starting to sweep across the world, and their itinerary had them awfully close to the Chinese border.
“I was asking one of the guys at the counter that works for the airline, ‘Is it safe over there?’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t have to go, I would not go,’” Emmett told UFC.com. “And then we had all these crazy emotions.”
As the world slowly started to shut down and borders began to close, the Emmetts decided the trip was still worth it against the pleading of their friends and family.
And while it wasn’t easy getting there, after sleeping off the long journey, Emmett said they basically “ate their way” through the country. They also stayed with local families, allowing them to fully experience the culture.
“That put things into perspective,” he said. “We’re so lucky for everything we have. These people were considered rich because they had a TV in their house. It’s so poor, and it really makes you appreciate everything.”
The three-week trip ended in late-February, just a few weeks before states across the country enacted stay-at-home orders in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. But the outlook gained from his international trip helped Emmett appreciate the comforts of his Sacramento home, including in the way he trained.
Because bodies in the Team Alpha Male gym were fewer, Emmett and his training partners found themselves more focused on individual work rather than the constant grind. Heading into his June 20th bout with Shane Burgos, Emmett said his body “feels a lot better.”
“It has been kind of nice that we haven’t been – and it sounds kind of bad – but we haven’t been going as hard every day, having two or three hard, hard practices where we’re just grinding, going live, sparring hard where your body is just super broken down and there’s maybe a lot more injuries,” Emmett said.
Injuries have kept Emmett from getting as much hype as one would assume looking at his featherweight record. With four wins in five bouts at 145 pounds, including three knockouts, Emmett noted that through his four years on the UFC roster, he has been inactive for just about half that time despite his desire to compete more frequently.
He also believes he deserves a shot at someone in the vaunted featherweight elite. His matchup with Burgos is a potential pathway there, and it’s a matchup that should – at the very least – bring out the most entertaining versions of both men.
“He’s a dangerous threat and a tough opponent, and he’s super well-rounded,” Emmett said. “I just need to go in there and continue what I’ve been doing and go in there and make another statement. And then I think I’ll finally get one of those top 5 opponents. I believe I’m one, two fights away from fighting for the title.”
Although Emmett only has five UFC bouts at 145 pounds, he is already tied for second in the division for total knockdowns (eight). He pushes back against the idea that his only weapon is an overhand right, though, and he is supremely confident in his grappling.
Burgos is a tough task, however. A cardio monster with knockout power in his own right, the matchup is a real glimpse into the bevy of talent in the division. It’s the kind of bout that could launch the winner into striking distance of title contention and Emmett thinks it’s a chance a long time coming.
“You look at my resume, and I’ve fought some super tough opponents,” Emmett said. “I feel like whoever wins this fight is going to get that push. And they can’t deny me. I set out only to fight for the UFC because I think it’s the biggest, best platform out there, in my opinion.
“My goal is to be a world champion, and there’s nothing getting in my way.”