PHILADELPHIA -- Josh Emmett still has no feeling in the gums on the left side of his mouth. That is one thing that never came back following his knockout loss to Jeremy Stephens in February 2018 -- and from what doctors have told him, there's a good chance it never will.
"I can take my nail and scratch those gums on the left side, and I won't feel a thing," Emmett told ESPN.
How big of a loss is that to Emmett? In other words, as odd as the question might sound, does one miss the feeling in one's gums once it's gone?
"I guess not," Emmett laughs. "I guess I've gotten used to it. It's been gone for over a year. At first it was really awkward, but you get used to it."
Emmett (13-2) will return to the Octagon for the first time in 13 months Saturday, when he meets Michael Johnson (19-13) at UFC Fight Night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The 31-year-old featherweight says his career was never in jeopardy over the last year, despite the serious injuries he suffered in his last bout. The Sacramento native required surgery for a broken orbital, broken cheek and fractured nose. A nerve on the left side of his face was compressed by the damage to his bone structure, which explains the lost feeling in his gums. The muscles responsible for moving his left eye were also affected.
"They reset the lateral orbit and the lateral floor," Emmett said. "My cheek was completely broken. There was a major nerve being compressed, so half my face was numb. The muscle controlling my eye was impinged. They kept saying how bad the break was, and they were amazed because my eye was just floating there. They were surprised it didn't fall out."
Emmett battled fits of vertigo for months after the fight. Every morning, he said, he woke up feeling as if he were in the middle of an ocean, "on the smallest boat, in the biggest storm." He doesn't remember much of anything from the night of the fight.
There's a common saying among combat sports athletes: "I know what I'm signing up for."
It's something of an all-encompassing line, to address all the hazards of an obviously dangerous profession. What happens when it really hits home, though? When those things you "signed up for" become real consequences affecting your everyday life?
For Emmett, who made $45,000 in that loss to Stephens, that phrase has taken on new meaning.
"I know it's a dangerous sport and career," Emmett said. "I'll tell you, financially, I only fought one time in 2018. And I only received half the check [show money] because I didn't win. That's tough. Financially, it was a tough year. Not even saying this would make it all better, but if we were making more money, I wouldn't have struggled as much.
"It was definitely not worth the amount of money I got paid -- the injuries I sustained."
But that said, was there ever a hesitation on Emmett's part before signing up for it again?
"Not one ounce," he said.