UFC Jacksonville: Josh Emmett vows to rebound after career-worst performance in interim title fight
Josh Emmett said all the right things before his bout for the interim featherweight title at UFC 284 against Yair Rodriguez on Feb. 11 in Perth, Australia. Camp was great. He was peaking at the right time. He was prepared for anything Rodriguez might try. He was ready to take the next step in his career progression.
He didn't just say those things, either. He believed them.
He was convinced he would win, that he'd extend his winning streak to six and that UFC president Dana White would be strapping the belt around his waist. There was a certainty in his voice that would convince skeptics to jump on his bandwagon.
That fight was a bit more than four months ago and, of course, it didn't turn out the way he wanted. Instead of preparing to fight featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski on July 8 in Las Vegas for the unified title, he's preparing for a comeback fight Saturday against unbeaten Ilia Topuria in the main event of UFC on ABC 5 at VyStar Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
Emmett remains one of the best fighters in the world — he's ranked fifth in the UFC's featherweight rankings — but he gets why the perception of him is slightly different now. The performance he turned in, he admits, wasn't up to his standards.
"It was the biggest fight of my life and let's be honest: It was a s***ty performance," Emmett said. "I just didn't have it that night."
Emmett offered zero excuses. Nothing Rodriguez did surprised him. He reiterated that camp went great. He said he was as confident as could be.
But when the lights went on, it wasn't his night. It happens to the best of them; the legendary boxer Roberto Duran was once defeated in his prime by a journeyman named Kirkland Laing.
For Emmett, it happened at the worst possible time.
"The thing that sucks is, in MMA, you have to be on at that moment when they close the door and the bell sounds," Emmett said. "You have to be on in that exact moment. If we're talking the NBA playoffs, you might lose a game in a [best-of-7] series and it's not good to lose, but you suck it up and come back in the next game and turn it around.
"That's not how it works in a sport like ours. Camp could have gone great, everything could have been exactly how you wanted it but then when it's go time, if you're not on for whatever reason, it's all over and you're done. Sometimes, you only fight once a year, but mostly just two or three times and so you just have to wait to come back and try to turn it around. That's what happened to me."
Emmett is 18-3 and has never lost two in a row. But he's a significant underdog to Topuria, who has not been shy in predicting a first-round finish of Emmett.
Emmett is a fierce competitor and proud athlete, but he's been around long enough to understand the game. He's heard what Topuria has had to say but hasn't lashed out at him or even been bothered by it. When you're winning, as Topuria is, you get to say what you want.
Emmett chuckled when asked about Topuria's prediction of a first-round finish.
"I don't think he actually believes that," Emmett told Yahoo Sports. "He's saying what he thinks people want to hear, and that's fine. It's not going to happen, but it doesn't bother me. Like I've been saying: He's young. He's confident. It is what it is. You have to have that belief in yourself in this sport. I don't really know what to say [in response].
"I remember when I was in his position and how I felt and how I thought when I was undefeated on the regional scene and when I was undefeated in the UFC at a weight class above what I fight at now. It's different. He can say whatever he wants to. We'll show up on [Saturday] and we're going to find out."
Topuria owns a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has a background in Greco-Roman wrestling. He's also an elite striker. Emmett acknowledges his talent, but he feels it's a good match for him.
The odds against him haven't angered him or overwhelmed him. He will, he said, do what is necessary to remind people of who he is and what he's done in his career.
"Really, I can finish the fight anywhere," Emmett said. "I come from a wrestling background. I've beaten jiu-jitsu black belts; I've subbed jiu-jitsu black belts. I've beaten stand-up fighters, so I know I can win fights anywhere, as well. So wherever he wants to take it, I'm prepared.
"I think he's going to try to use his wrestling and grappling a lot. We'll see how the fight plays out and I'll make adjustments on the fly if I need to. Otherwise, I'll go in and focus on doing what I'm capable of and get the job done."