According to the veteran featherweight contender, the UFC started communicating with him about plans for the future after it was cemented that reigning 145-pound champion Alexander Volkanovski would be moving up a division to challenge for a second title.
The official announcement for the fight didn’t come until a few weeks later when Emmett was confirmed for a showdown with Yair Rodriguez at UFC 284 on Feb. 11 with an interim title going up for grabs.
“I’ve kind of known about it for a while,” Emmett revealed when speaking with MMA Fighting. “I think they were just waiting for the Abu Dhabi fight with Islam [Makhachev] and [Charles] Oliveira to see how things played out but once Dana [White] said Volkanovski is going up to fight whoever, they were talking possibly about an interim title or a No. 1 contender’s fight. I’ve known but I didn’t know when. They were saying just get ready for December. So as it was getting closer, I was like I’m not going to take a four-week notice fight. If it was for an interim, of course, I would.
“But then they just hit me up on Saturday and said OK it’s finally going to happen. You and Yair. The co-main event on UFC 284. Of course, do you even have to call me and ask? I’ve never said no. Do you think I’m going to turn this one down?”
While interim titles have become much more common in recent years, Volkanovski has firmly established himself as champion with multiple title defenses including three wins over Max Holloway.
The only problem is Volkanovski is now set to face Islam Makhachev with the lightweight title up for grabs at UFC 284, which means the featherweight division will be put on hold until he can return to defend the belt again.
Emmett admits he’s always had somewhat conflicted feelings about interim titles being introduced in the UFC but this is one instance where it feels justified. That said, Emmett has no illusions about the belt he’s seeking to win in February and what it means about his standing in the division.
“In my opinion, there’s only one title and that’s the champion [Alexander] Volkanovski,” Emmett said. “He has the title but I feel like this solidifies when I get a big win, then I am next to fight for the title.”
Emmett isn’t looking past Rodriguez whatsoever but he views the interim title as a guarantee that a win will get him the next shot at Volkanovski once he returns to featherweight.
Volkanovski has promised repeatedly that he wants to compete at both 155 and 145 pounds with the hope that he will defend two titles simultaneously — assuming he can become a two-division champion with a win over Makhachev.
For his part, Emmett takes Volkanovski as a man of his word and he anxiously awaits his return to the division.
“That’s the goal and that’s still the goal,” Emmett said about eventually fighting Volkanovski. “This is just one step closer. We’ve seen interim titles announced three months after the champion just won. So I was thinking the same thing, if Volkanovski were to come back, the soonest would be International Fight Week in July, that would still be a year. Like you just mentioned, he would probably be out a little longer but I know he wants to stay active.
“He keeps saying things and he continues to deliver. I do believe him. I do believe he’s going to try to fight for the [155-pound] belt, if he does win, I feel like he wants to bounce up and down and keep the division moving. So I do believe him.”
If all goes well against Rodriguez, Emmett will then put his full attention on Volkanovski and becoming the undisputed UFC featherweight champion.
“I just think this is the right decision, the right choice,” Emmett said. “If I could write it out, this works out perfect, extremely well. Fight for the interim and then we can unify the title mid to the end of next year.”
As far as the choice of opponents, Emmett didn’t really care as long as he was one half of any interim title fight taking place.
The UFC ultimately selected Rodriguez rather than another ranked contender like Arnold Allen, who is riding an impressive 10-fight win streak but dealing with a hand injury that may have prevented his return in February anyways.
Regardless of any injury, Emmett wasn’t the least bit surprised that it was Rodriguez who got the call.
“I thought it would be Yair over Allen,” Emmett said. “If you just go by what is right, it probably should be Allen and I but I feel like with the UFC, Yair is a more popular fighter. He has a bigger following. He’s from Mexico so he has a whole country behind him. He’s entertaining, not that Allen isn’t. Allen has been entertaining and he’s really good, too, but no, it’s not surprising.
“A lot of times with the rankings people are in the top 5 and they lose and they just stay there for years. They don’t move. Just based off popularity so no, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”