A born fighter

Washougal native Whitmire breaks MMA record on national television

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Emily Whitmire beat Ronni Nanney in a unanimous decision in March 2017. (Photo courtesy Emily Whitmire)

Sixty-one seconds is all it took for Emily “Spitfire” Whitmire to get a first-round submission win in front of a national television audience Feb. 17.

It was the fastest choke hold victory in Ultimate Fighting Championship strawweight (106-115 pounds) history, but no surprise to Whitmire’s family and friends or to the Washougal wrestling community, where the Whitmire name is well known.

The 27-year-old professional fighter who lives and trains in Las Vegas and gained notoriety as a cast member on the reality television show “Ultimate Fighter” grew up in Washougal, where her father Mitch Whitmire was a state championship wrestler for the Panthers in 1980. His trophy remains on display in the wrestling room at Washougal High School.

Tragically, Emily never knew her father, who died in a traffic accident in 1991, only months after Emily was born.

“I definitely think my success in combat sports comes from my dad,” Whitmire said. “The genes must be a part of it.”

Whitmire was raised by her mother Tiffany in Washougal, where her attraction to adventurous sports started when her grandfather, Larry Whitmire, taught her how to barrel race horses.

“Barrel racing was my first love, and I’ll never forget going to the Skamania County Fair with my grandpa,” Whitmire said.

Her family then moved to Camas, where she attended Dorothy Fox Elementary School before relocating to Vancouver, where she graduated from Skyview High School.

Whitmire says even though she didn’t get a chance to wrestle or participate in sports in high school, wrestling always fascinated her.

“I was always a scrappy kid wrestling with the boys growing up, so I always had that fire in me,” she said.

Realizing her potential

That fire ignited her fighting career inside a Vancouver sports bar that was hosting a professional mixed martial arts fight when she was 18 years old.

“I got in with fake (identification), and didn’t even know what a mixed martial artist was,” Whitmire said.

After the fight, the announcer in the bar asked, “Does anyone here want to grapple with Lisa Ellis (the winning professional fighter)?”

Whitmire immediately raised her hand.

“I couldn’t believe no one else in the bar wanted to do it, but when I got into the ring I realized I was kind of insane. Maybe it was the drinks,” Whitmire said.

She lost the fight, but said something deep inside her screamed that fighting was something she needed to do. During her next day off from her waitressing job she started training at a fighting gym inside Vancouver Mall, vowing to get herself into shape.

Within two weeks, her coach asked if she was interested in participating in a local title match. She nodded yes without hesitation.

She lost that fight in the first round against a much more experienced fighter, but the loss motivated her to improve, which she did quickly, as she won a string of fights around the Portland area during the next few years.

In 2014 Whitmire was invited to join a professional fighting team led by former UFC bantamweight champion Miesha Tate, who was born in Tacoma and attended Central Washington University.

Whitmire decided make the bold move to Las Vegas to train with the best in the fast-growing sport. She also picked up a serving job in a Las Vegas bar where she continues to work to this day to help pay her bills.

“Ideally I don’t want to be a waitress, but the money is good and people there are awesome,” she said.

Back to reality

In the summer of 2017 Whitmire got her big break — she was selected for “Ultimate Fighter,” a FOX Sports reality show in which UFC fighters live in a house and face off with each other week after week until a new UFC champion is crowned in the final episode.

“You are in that house 24-7 for six weeks, four girls to a room, all sharing a bathroom,” Whitmire said. “It’s an insane model because you become friends, then you have to fight each other.”

Whitmire advanced to the show’s finale, losing in the quarterfinals.

“I didn’t go all the way, but the UFC saw potential in me,” she said.

After the “Ultimate Fighter” experience, Whitmire’s highly regarded mixed martial arts coach, Robert Follis, committed suicide in 2017, devastating Whitmire and the entire UFC community.

Whitmire says the unexpected death hit her very hard. She shared a connection with her coach, who was impacted by family emotional trauma throughout his life, something she could relate with after losing her father as a child and having an estranged relationship at times with her mother.

After Follis died, Whitmire decided to drive back to Oregon and reconnect with her mother, a decision that she says was one of the most positive turning points in her life.

“I let go of all my animosity towards my mom and just realized that life has ups and downs, and that’s just how my story is going to be written,” Whitmire said.

The native Washouglian has been on a professional roll ever since reconnecting with her family, including her record-breaking first-round submission move in front of a national audience in February. Currently, she’s focused on training and is anxiously waiting for her next fight.

Developing healthy habits

While Whitmire works in a bar to make ends meet, instead of alcohol, she now prefers nurturing her body with healthy tonics like turmeric and ginger teas. An all-natural diet has become the cornerstone of her intense training regiment.

“Not only do I eat healthy, I’m a big fan of CDB and now (try to) avoid all prescription drugs,” she said.

CDB, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in cannabis plants that many scientific studies have shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Whitmire says fight training also requires lots of ice and most importantly plenty of sleep to help her body recover.

Helping solidify her Pacific Northwest ties is her current coach, former MMA fighter Dennis “Piranha” Davis, who was born and raised in Oregon.

Whitmire is entering the prime years of her professional fighting career, but eventually she’d like to go back to school and get the credentials needed to become a park ranger.

“I love the outdoors, but right now I really have one goal, and that’s fighting,” she said.

Those who knew her father can’t help but think Mitch would be so proud of what Emily has accomplished.