WSOF 6 Primer: Josh Burkman – “Everyone will see my best performances in the next three years.”
he last five years have been rather good to Josh Burkman. After being cut from the UFC following a three-fight losing skid, “The People’s Warrior” got back on track and has since gone 8-1 in his following nine fights. He’s also found a new home at The World Series of Fighting, and this Saturday the man whose inaugural year in mixed martial arts was spent going 9-1 against light heavyweights and middleweights will be vying for the first-ever WSOF championship belt, at welterweight, in his fourth fight with the organization at WSOF 6: Burkman vs. Carl.
“Right now, I’m really happy with the World Series of Fighting,” he says in an exclusive interview with MMA Owl. “Going forward, I really want to win this world title, defend it, and make the title relevant in the mixed martial arts community.”
Training out of The Pit Elevated, the Utah branch of the gym made famous by John Hackleman and his star pupil Chuck Liddell, Burkman benefits from working regularly with fight game notables including Court McGee, Steven Siler, Brock Jardine, Rad Martinez and Jonathan Brookins. With the exception of Martinez, all of the aforementioned athletes have one thing in common: they all fight for the UFC. Considering that, with the exception of Ben Askren (who may very well be signing with Dana White’s fight house soon), Burkman remains the only top-15 welterweight outside of the organization.
“It’s extremely tough for me to move up [the top-10 welterweights in the world] rankings because all the guys in the top ten are in the UFC,” he says. “I think that somewhere along the line I’d like to test myself against the very best in the world. I think World Series is doing a great job of bringing in talent and giving me tough fights, and so for now I’m really happy where I’m at.”
His last fight was against the former longtime consensus #2 welterweight in the world, Jon Fitch. In what was later on considered by innumerable sports media outlets as the submission of the year, Burkman, who himself has not been finished since June 2008, rendered Fitch unconscious via guillotine choke 41 seconds into the first round. Fitch’s reputation as being impervious to submissions (having only ever been submitted once before, to Mike Pyle in his debut fight way back in 2002) made the victory all the more impressive.
“The key to that choke is I locked it in standing up, so I really had the standing guillotine and I knew it was tight before I ever went to my back,” says Burkman. “The grip is a little bit different, so when you turn the corner you can really do damage to somebody with the angle you’ve cut. By the time I went to my back I don’t think there was much chance for Jon Fitch to fight that choke.”
Following that win, which Burkman regards as the highlight of his career, he was asked backstage who he thought should be his next opponent. The man he named indeed became his next opponent: Steve Carl.
“I always give my opponents a lot of respect, and Steve Carl’s one of those guys that deserves it,” he says. “He’s got a lot of finishes and he’s got a unique style. I haven’t changed the structure of my training camp very much, but there are things that I do that are more specific for him, to get ready for the skill set that he possesses.”
Fighting for an organization whose figurehead, Ray Sefo, is a fighter himself has its benefits. Not only is there a more empathetic relationship between the fighters and those behind the scenes but there is, by and large, a camaraderie among everyone that is impossible with an experiential disconnect. According to Burkman, his rapport with Sefo was directly contributory to him and Carl fighting for the WSOF welterweight strap.
“Anybody that’s met Ray knows he’s a good dude, he’s a family man and he’s just good people,” he says. “He also relates to fighters. I think that’s also kind of one of the ways I was able to get a title shot. I think Ray Sefo was one of the people who said, ‘look, Burkman deserves this, we’re not going to have a tournament – he’s getting a title fight.’ They asked me, ‘we’re going to give you a title shot, who do you want to fight?’ and I said, ‘hey, nobody deserves it more than Steve Carl.’ So it’s nice to have that open working relationship with Ray where he understands.”
A few years ago, Burkman was living with chronic back pain. A lifelong athlete who competed in wrestling, baseball and football before transitioning into MMA, the 25 he’d spent on the gridiron, on the wrestling mats and in the cage had caught up with him. He had a herniated disk in his neck, four bulging disks in his mid and lower back, arthritis and nerve damage. Realizing he had to address these issues lest they worsen even further, he began getting help at the Nevada Sports Institute, working on his problem with the assistance of back injury and nerve damage specialist Dr. Bob Donatelli.
“They taught me so much about my diet and basically gave me an analogy, saying, ‘you know, you’re trying to be a NASCAR, and the fuel and things that you put in your body that are vital to you being great, why would you put things into your body that aren’t great for you?’” he says. “I just had a lot of really good people around me. Yoga was definitely a part of that. My wife and I, we met eight years ago when I just got off The Ultimate Fighter, and that’s when she first introduced me to Yoga, so I was doing it prior but I just made it a big part of my practice and my training when I injured my back, and it got me healthy.”
Josh married Brandy Lyn Winfield, the 2010 International Yoga Champion, on December 1, 2011. A year later, they welcomed their son, Legend, into the world. He credits all of his success to the newfound tranquility he’s found in his life as a result of having a family.
“I think getting married really helped me to just structure my life,” he says. “My wife is an amazing person who really helps me have structure, be a better person and a mixed martial artist. My little boy just kind of took all that selfishness that I had away. Certain things you do for yourself, where you’re just self-consumed, and it just took that away. And it actually made mixed martial arts training that much more enjoyable and better. Now it’s not just about me and enjoying my sport, it’s about also taking care of my wife and my son. I do those things that give me a better structure in my life and made me have more to fight for.”
And Josh is far from the first person in his family to fight with the purpose of putting food on the table. Truly the product of a histories lineage of pugilists and fighters, Josh comes from a long line of combatants. His grandfathers on both his parents’ sides were boxers, as was his great grandfather Gene “Kid” Pearce. His great-great uncle Arcade “Windmill” Pearce could actually be credited as being one of mixed martial arts’ forbears, as he was not only an accomplished and successful boxer but he also competed in wrestle-boxing matches, essentially MMA of a different name.
“I kind of draw inspiration from them as I’m training,” he says. “It’s nice to know that you’re born with certain things in your blood and you’ve got to just let them come out. I think fighting is one of those things. I was kind of born with it.”
On his off time, Burkman makes an effort to give back to his community in Salt Lake City, Utah. He’s currently involved with the Pete Sauzo Boxing Center, an inner-city boxing club which gives underserved local kids a place to go after school where they can channel their energies into something positive, all under the supervision of trained adults who make sure the kids do their homework, get some exercise in and are given a hot meal in the cafeteria before they’re sent home.
“A lot of them, their dads aren’t around, their mothers are on welfare, and it’s about 180 kids,” he says. “I just think it’s really important that we support the kids in our community.”
With a win this Saturday, Burkman, who celebrated his birthday earlier this month (Oct. 4), will extend his win streak to six. It marks a period in his life where things have seemingly fallen perfectly into place.
“You couldn’t go any better than it’s gone: coming back from my injuries, entering the World Series of Fighting and now being able to fight for a world title,” he says. “I think patience and perseverance is paying off now, and it will for the next three years. Everybody will see my best performances in the next three years.”
Josh Burkman will be fighting in the main event of World Series of Fighting 6: Burkman vs. Carl this Saturday, October 26 at the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, FL. Tickets start at $25. Watch the prelims streaming online at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT and the main card on NBC at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
(All photos used courtesy of Sherdog.com)