Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia’s martial arts journey has been a remarkable one.
In danger of heading down the wrong path as a teenager, the Floridian discovered martial arts. He found his passion, and subsequently chased his dream across the world to Thailand, where he has since become one of the very best featherweight athletes in ONE Championship.
The 31-year-old has remained fearless in his pursuit for greatness, and has had plenty of inspiration along the way. But perhaps his biggest influence was right at home.
“My number one inspiration, and my hero, will always be my father,” he states.
Urrutia’s father, Emilio Sr., has experienced quite the remarkable journey, too.
As Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba during the early 1960s, thousands of families feared for their children’s futures. So at the age of 14, Emilio Sr., a Cuban immigrant, was afforded the opportunity to emigrate from his Latin American home to the United States.
“He migrated from Cuba as part of a group of kids that were exiled right when Fidel Castro took over the country. He was able to get out on a lottery called the ‘Peter Pan’ flight (Operation Peter Pan) because the family had won a lottery ticket,” Urrutia recalls.
“There were church groups in America that were adopting exiled Cuban kids, so they could escape the communist regime. My dad went over at 14, was adopted by an American family, and lived in Tennessee. His mother managed to escape from the country, and they reunited when he was 17.”
As soon as his mom arrived in the United States, they relocated together to New Jersey. Emilio Sr. would eventually get married, and had two sons and a daughter. Then, they all moved to Miami, Florida, where the family set up a permanent residence.
To support the family, Emilio Sr. worked relentlessly, and held many different jobs. He was a banker, a truck driver for a cheese distributor, and even worked as a furniture salesman.
“The Honey Badger” saw first-hand how hard his dad worked in an effort to give his family better opportunities to succeed, and that resonated with him.
“He gave up everything,” the featherweight says. “He came over to America when he was young, and worked his butt off to give me and my family the best life we could have.
“My father never had the opportunity to chase his dreams, but he worked hard enough that he was able to give that to me. So I cherish him forever for giving me the opportunity to be me.”
Also, it is quite evident the family patriarch dotes on his son.
Emilio Sr. has supported his son ever since he made his tentative first steps as a martial arts competitor, even though he was uncertain at first. And his father’s reaction to his first amateur bout — a defeat — gave Urrutia all the encouragement and inspiration he needed to pursue his newfound passion with everything he had.
“I started training, and was coming home with these black eyes all the time, and my ears were getting all mangled up. They thought I was crazy. I think he thought I was in some sort of crazy fight club,” he recalls with a laugh.
“The first time he saw me compete was in my first amateur martial arts bout, and I lost. But he was so proud of me. I remember he came to me, and he grabbed me, and he told me, ’Man, at first I did not know what you were doing when you told me you were training martial arts. But watching you compete, and seeing your heart and passion, I want you to go for it 100 percent.”
Much like his father, Urrutia took a leap of faith, and flew to another country to start a new life. He left Miami, Florida for Phuket, Thailand, where he is based today, fully entrenched as a member of Tiger May Thai & MMA.
Although his family emotionally supported him, they understandably had some reservations about him living across the world. However, as “The Honey Badger” started making money and winning matches, those fears were all washed away.
There was a time, however, where Urrutia struggled with his confidence.
“I used to let my emotions get the best of me,” he admits. “I spent so much time worrying about what people thought about me, and I was held back by fear.”
That only further heightened in 2016, when he lost a pair of tough contests. At that point, he heavily considered moving back to Miami, and leaving his dreams behind.
However, Emilio Sr. would not allow it.
“My father is the one person who told me to stay, and continue until I made it to the big show,” Urrutia explains.
“I was home for a wedding, on a two-bout skid. I told my dad I was not going to go back to Asia. I wanted to cancel my return flight. I was dead serious, and he basically forced me to get back on the plane. He told me I have to go back, and finish what I started.”
The pep talk was exactly what “The Honey Badger” needed. He won his next two matches, including the SFC Bantamweight Championship, and earned a contract with ONE Championship.
Now, he finds himself on a four-bout win streak, and could extend it to five if he were to defeat former ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR on Friday, 20 April, in Manila, Philippines.
Also, if that were to happen, he could be next in line for a crack at the ONE Featherweight World Championship.
“If I win this bout, I want a title shot, 100 percent,” he says.
“If I beat Marat, there is no better man in the ONE Championship featherweight division. I have worked my whole life to get here, and now I am going to enjoy every minute of it. I hope Manila’s ready, because ‘The Honey Badger’ is coming.”
Urrutia’s father would expect nothing less.