UFC Vegas 8: At Just 18, Emily Whitmire Snuck Into a Bar, Found Her Future

Emily Whitmire
LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 07: Emily Whitmire raises her arms in victory after her women's strawweight fight during the UFC 226 event inside T-Mobile Arena on July 7, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

At 18 years old, UFC strawweight (and former flyweight) Emily Whitmire was like so many young adults her age. In search of some sort of purpose and direction in her life, with seemingly nowhere to look. When she thinks back to those times, she doesn’t pull any punches on her younger self. Instead she’s as she is when you ask her any question — unapologetically honest.

“I was just kind of a troubled kid. I was waiting tables, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer – had no real direction or anything going for myself,” she says of her younger self.

This all was destined to change one weeknight in the winter of 2010. After work, Whitmire decided to join a couple of her friends at a local Oregon bar. Of course, being only 18, she needed to finagle her way in.

“I [was] 18. I used a fake ID to get in,” Whitmire recalls with a laugh. “I almost didn’t go because I was nervous that my fake ID wouldn’t work. Sure enough, they hardly looked at it and then I got right in. ”

Once inside, she immediately noticed that something was different. The dance floor was virtually invisible and there was a structure set up where it had once been. Then, when the man inside of the structure offered an invitation, Whitmire couldn’t say no.

“[The] bar was having an MMA show. I didn’t even know what MMA was and it was on a Wednesday night. They had a cage out on the dance floor and that night the announcer asked if any girls wanted to grapple,” she said. “I didn’t know what grappling was. I raised my hand just kind of always being scrappy.”

Even though she wasn’t sure what she was in for, Whitmire immediately took to the sensation of being inside the cage. Something seemed to click for her in a way nothing previously had.

“The moment I got in the cage, I was like ‘this is something I want to do,’” Whitmire recalls. “I was looking for an avenue — something to pour myself into. I had all this energy and all this motivation to become something, but I didn’t know what to become. I didn’t want to be a waitress forever and like that it just clicked.”

However, although everything felt right at the moment, the impromptu grappling match didn’t exactly go well for the youngster. The result was perhaps unsurprising given the complete lack of training (or even knowledge) about the sport she had, but it’s even less surprising given the opponent.

“The grappling match was actually against Lisa Ward, now Lisa Ellis,” recalled the former UFC and TUF veteran. “She was a big pioneer in the sport back then. So my first taste of the sport was against somebody that had already accomplished a lot.”

That didn’t deter Whitmire’s plunge into the sport. On the contrary, the bout, along with a nudge in the right direction, gave her a desire for more.

“After that grappling match, somebody came up to me and they’re like ‘where do you train at?” Whitmire recalled. She responded, saying “’I don’t train at all’ and he’s like ‘well, you look really tough. You should come train at my gym.’”

Fresh off the feeling she got in the cage, she didn’t hesitate to take him up on his offer. When she did though, her life wasn’t exactly free for her to train all the time, nor was the location of the gym accommodating for it. Still, that didn’t stop her from putting everything into it and getting back in there as soon as possible.

“The gym was in Longview, Washington and at the time I was living in Forest Grove, Oregon – close to a two-hour drive. So I was driving two hours there and two hours back on my two days off,” she explained. “I was just training for two days a week for like two months, and then I had a fight. It was very short and not a good idea. But I mean, where do you go from there? It can’t get any worse than that, you know?”

And it’s that mentality that has driven Whitmire to where she is today. The push for something better, something more. If it takes a fake ID and getting beat up a few times to get there, so be it.

“Looking back, what a wild way to get into this,” she said.

You can catch the next step of Whitmire’s journey as part of the prelims of UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Rakic on ESPN+ this Saturday, August 29. Whitmire faces Polyana Viana in a bout originally scheduled back in March.


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