After 39 fights, Josh Burkman is finally coming to terms with the fact that mixed martial arts is a professional athletic endeavor, and he’s surrounded himself with professionals going into his UFC 187 fight against one of the best welterweights in the world, Dong Hyun Kim.
The fight takes place on May 23 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Kim is making his return for the first time since suffering a KO loss last August at the hands of Tyrone Woodley. Burkman is coming off a unanimous decision loss against Hector Lombard that was later overturned and called a no-contest after Lombard failed a post fight drug test for PEDs.
Burkman’s career has spanned some thirteen up and down years, but he’s been ranked in the top ten twice, been champion in small and big organizations alike, and by all accounts, has nothing much to prove to himself or his fellow fighters.
But there’s an urgency in Burkman’s mostly stoic voice.
“This fight with Kim is going to define where I can go from here, and find out what I have left,” he said. “If I win I will be ranked in the top 10 again and it puts me in the hunt for a title shot. This fight will keep me competing at a high level, and it will mean these will be the best years of my career. But I have to go out and prove that against Kim. “
Burkman says he’s had the best fight camp he’s ever had. He brought in a new trainer who has focused on keeping the 35-year-old healthy and injury free. That regimen has meant less pressure on the body, less hard sparring, drilling on the mat instead of going for submissions, and strength and conditioning underwater in a pool, rather than pushing tractor trailer tires across a parking lot.
“I was talking to Dana White and he asked me what I do the last few weeks of training camp, and I told him light drilling and just cardio work,” says Burkman. “He said ‘We ought to make that mandatory.’ Too many guys are getting hurt just a few weeks before their fight. That’s not a smart way to have a long career.”
Neither is testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, but don’t expect Burkman to kick Lombard when he’s down.
“It would have been nice if they gave me some of the money they (the NSAC) took from Hector,” he said. “But taking the loss off my record isn’t a bad thing. I made a lot of mistakes during that fight. I learned a lot and was able to fix those things in this camp, so it’s not the worst thing in the world.”
One thing that was the worst thing in the world about that fight with Lombard, however, was Burkman’s fight camp leading up to that fight.
“That whole camp was miserable,” he said. “I had bronchitis before the fight , then I had to cut weight. There was a reason I had a hood on at the weigh-ins – because I was downright miserable. It can’t get any worse than that for me, but I still went in there and was able to perform, even though it wasn’t the level that I know I can perform at.”
Burkman has had many lives in MMA. After being cut from the UFC in 2008 after three years and a .500 record, he took some time off before crushing the MMA scene in Utah. A subsequent 4-1 run in the WSOF opened the way back into the UFC.
“The UFC has been good to me, but seriously, I don’t have many complaints about anywhere I’ve been,” he said. “If I stay healthy I will be at the top of this division. This is my time now, we’re doing it right and I think we’re going to put few wins together.”
Burkman says he admires what current welterweight champ Robbie Lawler has done to get back on top of his game. He said he sees parallels in his and Lawler’s career.
“I think Robbie’s success has a lot to do with him being able to put it all together,” Burkman says. “He went through those lean years in Strikeforce but look at him now. He stepped up, got into great shape and his confidence level is at an all-time high. He gets right in the pocket and his head movement is spot on. Now I have the opportunity to fight another top ten guy in Dong Hyun Kim, and this time I’m ready for it.
In Kim, Burkman will be facing a highly skilled, highly motivated Judo black belt who has some vicious knockout power. He’s a taller fighter at 6’1” to Burkman’s 5’10”, but fighting taller guys is nothing the Utah native isn’t used to.
“Hector is the only guy I’ve ever fought who was shorter than me. I’m used to fighting bigger guys,” he said.”
And as many of Burkman’s contemporaries have said goodbye to the sport for various reasons, Burkman thinks, at age 35, he’s just getting started. But he knows he can’t do it alone. He’s been down that road before.
“My wife is incredible when it comes to nutrition and a healthy spine because of the yoga she’s done her whole life,” he said. “I’m lucky to be married to a good woman who looks out for me. As I get older I’ve gotten injured more, so this camp I’ve pulled back. When I trained for Hector I sparred too hard. I pushed myself too hard. The older I get I realize that’s just the adrenaline pushing me to go hard. Now I know I need to save the adrenaline for the fight.”