By Ben Fowlkes
Back in his wrestling days, Josh Emmett used to dislocate his finger from time to time. It was usually the pinky, sitting out there on the vulnerable edge when he went to stuff an opponent’s shot and shove his body into the mat.
He’d feel it before he saw it. Then, when he looked down and saw his little finger pointing off at a 90-degree angle, he’d know he had a problem.
In wrestling what usually happened was the ref called time out and a coach or team doctor yanked the dislocated finger back into place. Then the match went on.
But in an MMA fight it doesn’t work that way. So when Emmett (10-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) felt something in his finger pop after Jon Tuck’s (9-3 MMA, 3-3 UFC) spinning kick connected with it midway through the final round of their recent fight at UFC Fight Night 87, he knew he’d have to adjust on the fly. What he didn’t know was what, exactly, he’d be adjusting to.
“When he kicked it, I felt that same sensation in my finger as I used to get when I’d dislocate a pinky,” Emmett told MMAjunkie. “But when I looked down at it I could see it was just kind of hanging there. I could see the bone sticking out, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s not good.’”
What made it somehow better but also worse was the fact that things had been going well for Emmett right up until that point. He’d accepted an offer to make his UFC debut on just four days’ notice. He’d flown from his home in California to Rotterdam, Netherlands, to fill in for the injured Nick Hein, and he knew there weren’t a lot of people in the MMA world expecting him to come home a winner.
“It was crazy,” Emmett said. “I get this call, and the next thing I know I’m getting on a plane, flying halfway across the world, and I’ve never left the country before.”
He showed no sign of nerves once the fight began. For the first two rounds, he picked Tuck apart with relative ease, slipping away from strikes and firing back with sharp, accurate counters. He seemed well on his way to winning a decision by the time the fight entered the third and final round. Then came that kick.
After Emmett looked down and saw bone, he said, he next glanced up at the clock. There were only about two minutes left in the fight, and he felt confident in his ability to survive that long.
“But after that he kicked it again, and it was the weirdest thing,” Emmett said. “He threw an upkick and I blocked it. I could see the sweat kind of fly over my left shoulder and I looked at it. In that moment, I actually thought he had kicked my finger off. It was such a strange feeling.”
Emmett spent the remaining time just focused on survival. By this point Tuck seemed to realize that Emmett was fighting with one hand, and he went on the attack in an effort to capitalize. For the first time in the fight, Tuck was clearly winning, which didn’t make for the strong finish Emmett had been hoping for.
Still, two of the three judges saw the fight for Emmett, who flashed his bloody, mangled finger to the camera after the fight as a way of explaining to the fans at home why his offense had disappeared in the final two minutes. In that moment, he still had enough adrenaline in his system to smile and shrug it off. That changed quickly.
“As soon as the fight was over and I was walking away from the cage, that’s when everything started to sink in,” Emmett said. “My hand, it was just the most uncomfortable feeling. It was pretty painful. And when I got back there, the doctor was starting to take off the glove and I had to say, ‘I don’t think I can do that.’”
After they’d finally cut the glove off Emmett’s hand, UFC President Dana White posted an Instagram video of the hand wrap removal. It looked about as bad as it felt, Emmett said, and it didn’t get much better when another doctor came in to put the bone back in place.
“That was extremely painful,” Emmett said. “But still, it was definitely worth it. The whole experience, going there and getting a win in my UFC debut, it still feels kind of unreal.”
Except, of course, for the pain. That part might have been a little too real. But nearly a week later, Emmett said, the finger feels “pretty good.” And, if nothing else, at least it made his UFC debut one to remember.