Josh Emmett’s momentum was brought to a halt in 2018.
The UFC featherweight contender propelled up the rankings in December 2017 when he scored a first-round knockout of former title challenger Ricardo Lamas, ending the year with a bang. Emmett was arguably just a win or two away from a shot at champion Max Holloway.
But then he ran into Jeremy Stephens in his first UFC main event two months later. Stephens finished him via TKO in the second round. Emmett suffered a handful of severe facial injuries, including fractures of his lateral orbital, nasal bone, and zygomatic arch.
Emmett has been sidelined since that fight. He is finally set to return to the cage at Saturday’s UFC Philadelphia, where he meets Michael Johnson, but it hasn’t been an easy road back for the Team Alpha Male fighter.
“It was a good year for some of the stuff that my wife and I were doing personally, but as far as competing and being an athlete, it was one of the worst years,” Emmett told Bloody Elbow.
While he was unable to fight, Emmett did some odd jobs in construction alongside a friend so he could pay his bills. But he said he couldn’t go and find a regular day job because once he was able to return to action, he had no intention of working another job and wouldn’t have been able to get rid of it.
Emmett started getting back into light training — mitt work, weight-lifting — in June or July, he said. Then, around August or September, he was nearing 100 percent, and got back into team practices at the Sacramento-based gym. And then finally in October or November, Emmett said, he began to spar again.
Emmett said he could have come back sooner than March — he was initially targeting a fight on the promotion’s year-end show — but wanted to “prolong” his return as much as possible to ensure he was 100-percent healthy and ready to go. Taking things slowly was a big focus throughout his recovery, Emmett said.
“I’ve seen people ruin their careers because they had a bad concussion, then come back, they get another one, and then they’re done,” Emmett said. “I did not want that to happen to me, because I feel like I’m fairly new in the UFC, just getting started, breaking onto the scene. I didn’t want to jeopardize anything, so I took the necessary time off to get healthy and get back to where I was at.
“They offered me March 30, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect.’ It’s just gonna give me a little bit more time, which is totally fine. It’ll help me get my weight down, get even more in shape, get all my timing, get more technical. It all worked out for the best.”
Emmett said he also suffered from concussion-like symptoms, including vertigo, as a result of the injuries. He said he remained hopeful throughout the difficult time, but admitted it got tough not to doubt whether he would ever recover. Emmett said he also got to a point where he was worried he would have to stop fighting.
“When I wake up every morning and the room is spinning for months, and then you get nauseous, you’re sick, it’s depressing,” Emmett said, “because I feel like I put my whole life into this and this is all I wanted, and it could be over just like that.”
On a positive note, Emmett said he believes he has grown from the injuries suffered against Stephens and the tough times that came along with them. He even suggested that “maybe it was a good thing” his 2018 shaped up the way it did.
“It made me stronger,” Emmett said. “I’ve never had anything handed to me. I’ve worked so hard for everything I’ve ever gotten, and everything I’ve done, I’ve done it on my own. No handouts, no easy road. This is just another obstacle that I’ve had to overcome.”