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UFC headliner Josh Emmett continues to rise, and credits his best friend as major factor

Josh Emmett faces a tough test on Saturday night against veteran Jeremy Stevens. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It was a strange text conversation, even for best friends.

UFC featherweight Josh Emmett (13-1), who fights Jeremy Stephens in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night in Orlando, texted his buddy Johnny Perez recently, asking for a copy of his identification and clothing sizes.

The two have a long history together. Perez was the best man in Emmett's wedding. But even so, Perez was confused by the text.

"Since I'm fighting in a main event, I get an extra cornerman," Emmett explained to ESPN. "When I found out about that, I asked Johnny for his ID and sizes. He said, 'What are you talking about?' I told him, 'I want you in my corner.'

"It's a way for me to give him a little something, after all he's done for me. If it wasn't for him and his wife, maybe I wouldn't be here fighting right now."

Emmett, 32, has enjoyed a quick rise since signing with the UFC in 2016, and he attributes much of that to a supportive family -- and a friend like Perez.

A Sacramento native, Emmett first attended Urijah Faber's famed MMA gym in 2006, but did not start training full-time until 2010. Rather than jump into MMA right away, Emmett chose to attend and wrestle at a four-year college.

When he graduated in 2010, he had options. He knew a police chief in Sacramento, and had been told there was a reserved spot at the academy if he wanted it.

Despite his wrestling background, Emmett knew if he went into MMA, he'd be doing so late. He never wanted to fight just to fight. He wanted to face the best, and that meant catching up on technique and experience -- not to mention building a record.

That's when Perez invited Emmett and his wife to move into his home, so he could save money and put all his efforts into fighting.

"They wanted me to pursue this dream," Emmett said. "I worked at a group home to have a little money, but other than that, it was full-time training.

"Johnny played college football. His father passed away and he had to move back and take care of his sister, otherwise he would have gotten drafted to the NFL. There were guys he played over that eventually went into the league. I think he has some regret about that, and didn't want it to happen to me."

Less than two years after his UFC debut in May 2016, Emmett is in a position to headline his first event and believes he's only one win away from a UFC title shot. He is coming off the most high-profile win of his career, a first-round knockout over former title challenger Ricardo Lamas in December.

Emmett signed a contract extension prior to the Lamas win, and says everything is in place for him to challenge for the belt this year.

He'll be on his own on Saturday, when the Stephens bout begins. But for the first time in his career, one of his greatest supporters will be in his corner.

"I might be in a regular 8-to-5 job right now if it wasn't for him -- and I'd be doing well at it, but I'd be thinking about fighting," Emmett said. "It's all come together, and I want to be the baddest fighter in the UFC's featherweight division."