After graduating from El Camino High School in 2003, Josh Emmett was set and determined on what he wanted to do with his life. He was ready to serve his country by joining the U.S. Army as a private first class E3.
“I was already enrolled in the Army,” says Emmett. “I was in the Delayed Entry Program. I had done my physical. I was on the buddy system, so I was all set to go.”
But one phone call changed those plans.
Emmett’s new journey began after a phone conversation with City College wrestling coach Dave Pacheco, who attends high school wrestling events to recruit students to perform on the college level. That’s where he met Emmett.
Pacheco convinced Emmett to come to City College and wrestle for the Panthers. Although he wanted to join the Army, Emmett remembered what his high school wrestling coach would always tell him.
“He told me to use wrestling as a tool to get my education,” says Emmett. “I’m so happy I went this route because I met so many great people.”
Little did Emmett know that his decision would forge a path to stardom as a mixed martial artist in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Emmett attended City College from 2003–06 and wrestled for the program in ’03 and ’05, earning a fifth-place state finish in ’05. He then attended Menlo College where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration in psychology.
As a fan of Ultimate Fighting in high school, Emmett thought that he could beat some of the fighters he watched, but it was not an easy journey breaking into the U.F.C.
When he discovered in 2006 that he wanted to be a professional fighter, he began training at the Sacramento gym of former U.F.C. fighter and UC Davis grad Urijah Faber.
“Urijah saw potential in me,” says Emmett. “He came up to me about three months in and asked me if I was interested in fighting.”
In 2010, Emmett competed as an amatuer, where he posted a 2-0 record, winning both fights by knockout. He officially went pro in 2011.
But when Emmett wasn’t getting the call he hoped for—to fight for the U.F.C.—he contemplated boxing. Every time he won a U.F.C. fight, he was told the same thing: Win one more fight.
“It was frustrating,” Emmett says. “It was always the U.F.C. or nothing for me.”
Emmett won nine consecutive matches before making his U.F.C. debut May 8, 2016, on four days’ notice. He finally received a call from U.F.C. matchmaker Joe Silva, who wanted Emmett as a replacement fighter for a fight in the Netherlands. Despite the short notice, Emmett defeated Jon Tuck by split decision for his first U.F.C. victory.
Emmett, now 32, is 13-1 in his M.M.A. career with four wins coming via knockout, two by submission and seven coming by decision. His only loss came by decision.
“I had a tough road to get to where I’m at,” says Emmett. “I just had to keep chasing it and pursuing it.”
Emmett won the biggest fight of his career Dec. 16, 2017, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, when he knocked out then-No. 3 featherweight Ricardo Lamas in the first round. Emmett’s victory was labeled the second biggest upset of 2017, according to the official U.F.C. website.
In support of his former grappler, Pacheco flew out to Winnipeg to witness Emmett capitalize on a left hook that sent Lamas landing flat on the mat.
“When he hit that left hook,” says Pacheco, “we all just went crazy.”
Unranked prior to the fight, Emmett hoisted himself to the No. 4 featherweight in the U.F.C. after his win against Lamas.
Considered an underdog by many fight experts, Emmett embraces the role. That mentality dates back before his time in mixed martial arts.
“I like to prove people wrong,” says Emmett. “I feel like I’ve been doing that my whole life.”
Emmett hopes to score another huge win Feb. 24 at U.F.C. Fight Night in Orlando, Florida, when he takes on the No. 7 featherweight, Jeremy Stephens, in the main event. Two consecutive Top 10 victories could have big implications for Emmett.
“This would be a huge win for Josh,” says Emmett’s boxing coach Joey Rodriguez. “Stephens has fought a lot of top guys, and we’re hoping it lines us up for a title shot next.”
Emmett said the fight will be the toughest of his career to date, and he’s expecting a “complete war” when the two meet in the octagon. Emmett has watched all of Stephens’ fights and says he is prepared for what’s to come.
“Stephens and I have similar styles,” says Emmett. “We both come from a wrestling background, and we’re both very explosive and powerful. He’s a tough dude that comes forward. He’s willing to take a punch to give one or two.”
Emmett has high expectations for the fight and believes it will set the tone for 2018.
“I’m calling it fight of the night already,” he says. “I think we’re going to crack off 2018 with a fight of the year candidate. It is a fight the fans want to see.”
U.F.C. Fight Night can be seen Feb. 24 on Fox at 5 p.m. For more on Josh Emmett’s fighting profile, visit http://www.ufc.com/fighter/josh-emmett.