Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia is living proof that if you chase your dreams, they can come true.
The Thai-based American made his ONE Championship debut last August, but the idea of competing on the global stage was a million miles from his thoughts when he was a troubled teenager in Miami, Florida.
“When I was a kid, I used to get in a lot trouble, and found myself in rehabilitation programs and stuff like that. It was a crazy road,” the 31-year-old explains.
“My teen years were out of control. And when I finally got my stuff together, and I was on the right track and doing the right things, I had a counselor at this program that helped out troubled kids.
“He said, ‘You have so much energy, I bet you would love to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.’ I told him I thought I was too old, but he said he was 36! Then he showed me a video of him training in Muay Thai and smashing pads. I was like, ‘I can do that too?’ and he said, ‘Yeah! You will love it!’.”
That was where it all began for “The Honey Badger,” who admits he was “kind of a lost kid” at the time. He was nervous, but courageously went into a local gym to try Muay Thai. Soon, those nerves faded, and the realization dawned on him that this was where he was destined to be.
“The first five minutes of class we were doing the warm-up, and it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life,” he says with a chuckle.
“I swear, right then and there, I looked around in the middle of the sweat and fatigue, and realized this was what I had been searching for my whole life. That empty void that I had this whole time was filled in that moment, in that first Muay Thai class, and I have changed everything about my life to make it about martial arts.
“I have never looked back. Everybody thought I was crazy, but it ended up working.”
His martial arts journey did not start and finish in that local gym. He had far grander plans, and when he went on the hunt for a more established martial arts gym, he stumbled upon a route to Asia that immediately became his life’s passion.
“When I signed up, we had all the assistant coaches there, but all the lead coaches and pro athletes had gone to Thailand for a month to train,” he says.
“They used to make these little video blogs of life on the road, training at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket. And when I had just signed up for the gym, I started seeing these videos and photos. So from the first day that I trained, I always knew that I wanted to get my skill level good enough so that I could go to Thailand and train in Muay Thai. That became my goal from that moment on.”
Urrutia emailed Tiger Muay Thai & MMA weekly, and asked them about their fees. Eventually, he saved enough money for a plane ticket, flew to Thailand after receiving his BJJ purple belt, and started his training at the Phuket-based gym.
The timing of the trip seemed perfect. Urrutia was getting ready to make his cage debut in America, and the trip to Thailand was ideally scheduled to form part of his training camp ahead of that bout.
Then, the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself, and his plans quickly changed.
“My time to leave Thailand was coming up, and I was already pretty sad that I was about to head home. Then my friend asks me, ‘Do you want to go and teach in Singapore?,’” recalls Urrutia, who was excited of the prospective gig.
“So I ended up getting a job teaching at a gym over there. After that, everything took off.”
It was a whirlwind period of Urrutia’s life. He had only traveled to Thailand in preparation of his debut back in the United States, but then, out of nowhere came the chance to stay in Asia, and continue his training while working as a coach. It was a dream come true.
“I could not believe it. It was so crazy,” he admits.
“I remember calling my parents, and thinking they were going to freak out about it. But when I told them I was getting a job teaching, they said, ‘Wait a second, they are going to pay you for doing all these things we thought you were crazy for doing these last four years?’ And once I got the approval from my parents, the dream was set. It was meant to be.”
With a base in Singapore, Urrutia set about making a career for himself in Asia, with the end goal of moving to Thailand to join the world-renowned Tiger Muay Thai team.
After a remarkable journey and a lot of hard work, his dream became a reality in 2014 when he took part in the Muay Thai tryouts at Tiger Muay Thai, and made the team. His career saw him compete across the region, with bouts in Thailand, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and of course, Singapore.
“The Honey Badger” started racking up the wins, and eventually received the call to compete in ONE last August. In his promotional debut, he defeated Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly in a three-round featherweight affair.
Now, Urrutia (10-4) is all set for his second appearance in the ONE cage as he prepares to take on two-time BJJ no-gi world champion Bruno Pucci (5-2) at ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES, live from Manila on Friday, 26 January.
After the remarkable journey from Miami to Phuket, Urrutia wants to repay the faith shown to him by his family, who supported their son’s decision to pack his bags and chase his dream, 10,000 miles from home.
“Being away from my family, my loved ones and the people I care about has been hard, but when they support me, that is what gives me the strength to keep training and doing my best, no matter what,” he explains.
“They know I want to be home with them, but they also know I am doing what I love and living out my dreams. They just want me to keep going until the end.
“My goal for 2018 is to get my parents out here and compete for them.”
Urrutia has come a long way from that teenage rehabilitation program and the counselor who urged him to try jiu-jitsu. Back then, he was a lost boy without direction in life. Now, he is a grown man who is chasing his dreams, and loving every moment.