THE south Essex mixed martial arts community has been left stunned after the sudden loss of one of its best-loved fighters.

Mixed martial arts fighter “Smokin’” Joe Emmons, was found dead at home in Southchurch on Saturday, at the age of 40.

Friends, fans and fellow fighters have paid tribute to the married father-of-four, who was a Thai kickboxing instructor at Muay Thai Southend, on the Greyhound Retail Park, and TSG Mixed Martial Arts Fight School, in Westcliff.

Lee Mayo, 38, who set up Muay Thai Southend with Joe, said: “He was a caring man. He loved everyone.

“He was the type of guy who would walk into a room and light the place up.

“He would have everyone smiling and laughing.”

Dan Burzotta, 39, a fellow fighter and owner of TSG, said: “He was the life and soul of the party.

He made your night. I’ve never met anyone like him.

“He came across as a tough fighter, but he was a gentle giant with a heart of gold.”

Mr Emmons, who grew up in Shoebury and attended Cecil Jones College, in Southchurch, practiced judo, karate and boxing as a child, but was more interested in football than fighting.

But the West Ham fan, who used to enter the ring to I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, took up Thai kickboxing while living in Thailand a decade ago and won his debut professional bout six months later.

He won the Hua Hin Championship, in Thailand, three years later.

Joe, who won his last UK fight against Remigifus Reblys at Talk Nightclub, Southend, in June, and returned to the UK to found Muay Thai Southend. Mr Emmons, whose niece Cheznye died after drinking toxic alcohol in Indonesia in 2013, leaves behind wife Donna-Marie and a four-year-old daughter. He has three children from earlier relationships.

It is believed he took his own life.

Mr Burzotta, of Westcliff, who has pledged to donate takings from his next bout to his friend’s family, said: “Joe was a larger than life character.

“He did everything; he used to train, tutor classes, travel, follow the England football team around the world.

“He was always busy, always cheerful.

“I would never have expected this to come from him.”

Proceeds from Mr Emmons’s Wednesday night classes at Muay Thai Southend, which will continue, will also go Mr Emmons’s family.