Josh Emmett planned to put on the best performance of his career in the UFC on ESPN 11 co-main event, but 15 seconds into the first round, disaster struck.
While exchanging shots with opponent Shane Burgos on the feet, Emmett’s left leg got hyperextended when he was stepping down to throw a punch. Immediately, he knew something had gone horribly wrong.
“I had everything dialed in,” Emmett said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Biggest fight of my career to date. It was on ESPN. Everyone around the world was watching it and the first 15 seconds, I stepped wrong. I did it to myself. I hyperextended my knee.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that. I just had no stability. I can’t even describe the pain. It hurt like hell.”
Despite the excruciating pain, Emmett never even contemplated that the fight was over just because his knee was severely compromised.
He didn’t find out the extent of his injuries until Monday, but the Team Alpha Male featherweight knew his leg was in bad shape as soon as he tried to take a step forward for the first time.
“Every time I would step on it, it would buckle,” Emmett said. “It would give out. I think most people would have quit or I think they would have looked for a way out. I worked too hard for that. I was just like screw this.
“Fourteen and a half more minutes, I just had to bite down on the mouthpiece and adjust my game plan, basically everything right there, just bite down and throw bombs and just throw the kitchen sink at him.”
Emmett later revealed that he suffered a torn ACL, a partial MCL tear, “focal impact” fracture of his femur and damaged cartilage in his leg.
While he was somehow able to disguise the extent of his injury for the majority of the fight, Emmett says the knee affected everything he was doing and stopped him from doing so much more.
“I couldn’t throw a right kick because my [left] knee would buckle,” Emmett said. “I couldn’t throw combinations or go to the liver because any time I’d lean to the left, it would give out. He was kicking me with those inside kicks and any time he would do that, it would look worse now watching the fight. He would kick me and my knee would just give out. It was tough.
“He’s an awesome guy. Shane Burgos, he’s a tough competitor. It was kind of everything I expected, but I don’t think he gets out of the second round if I have two legs.”
Miraculously, Emmett even managed to drop Burgos with a couple of his best punches that were thrown with less velocity because his knee was so badly damaged. Once the fight went to the ground, Emmett couldn’t really take advantage of the position thanks to his leg giving out on him there as well.
“I know I wasn’t throwing everything,” Emmett explained. “I was hitting him with hard shots but I was not throwing 100 percent because I wasn’t able to sit down on my punches. I was just winging them. That’s why I say, even when I dropped him and I could have pounced and tried to finish him but I was kind of stalling in his guard.
“One of the times he gave me his back, I couldn’t push off on my leg. I couldn’t get to him. I couldn’t take his back. When he stood up, I would have kicked him but I couldn’t kick with my right leg.”
Considering that the injury happened almost immediately after the fight started, Emmett could have easily faded away or even asked for a way out after he somehow made it to the end of the opening round.
As it turns out, those thoughts never even crossed his mind.
“I had to dig deep cause I’m thinking right then I’m not going home with one check because of this freak accident,” Emmett said. “I’ve said it before, my mental toughness is my greatest attribute. I don’t just say that. I’m willing to go through hell and suffer a great deal of pain as long as I get my hand raised, it’s all worth it. That’s something you cannot teach.
“I will never look for a way out. To take me out, you have to knock me out or finish me. That’s just not me. I’ve never been that way and I’ll never be that way.”
Afterwards, Emmett was critical of his performance despite the fact that he went three rounds against a top 10 ranked opponent on a busted leg.
A few days later, he’s able to look back with a little more reverence.
“I’m definitely happy with the outcome,” Emmett said. “I was just tough on myself because I was going to show so much more of my game. I’m always going in there and just striking. I was going to mix up a lot of things. I was going to go in there and completely out class him and make it look easy.
“I suffered that [knee injury] and I just had to slug it out. I was more just pissed about the knee honestly but it was a great accomplishment over a tough opponent.”
Emmett wanted nothing more than to shine under the spotlight with his fight against Burgos so even bigger opportunities would be presented to him in the future. While the knee injury dramatically altered the outcome of the fight, Emmett is still happy he got the win, a performance bonus and hopefully the respect of fans, critics and the rest of the featherweight division.
“Instead of me just going in there and knocking him out, I am glad the way it went down,” Emmett said. “Because I just had to battle through that [injury] and we put on a great performance. Everyone’s talking about it.”