by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Photo courtesy of JoshBurkman.com)

Last year was a year of headlines for Josh Burkman. Starting off with the infamous “spitting incident” in April and culminating with his spot on the cast of The Ultimate Fighter 2, Burkman became one of the more recognizable young names in MMA.

After a successful first fight of the year in January where he defeated veteran Drew Fickett in just over a minute at Ultimate Fight Night 3, Burkman is poised to return to the UFC this April and further his case as one of the best young 170lb fighters around. MMA Weekly recently caught up with Josh to discuss his year, his upcoming fight, and his goals for 2006.

“I thought it was a good year,” said Josh of his past year. “I won a couple fights and lost to (Jeremy) Horn, and even good things ended up coming from that. Getting on the TV show and things like that helped my career take off and give me the opportunity to get into the UFC and show what I got. I think it was a good year for me in terms of fighting, getting our gym up and things like that.”

As for his evolution as a fighter, Burkman seems pleased with his development so far. “I’ve developed a lot not only as a fighter, but in my whole life period. Fighting has helped me become a healthier person. I’ve gotten in a lot better shape and have focused on my conditioning and my game has gotten better all around. I still have a long ways to go, no doubt about it, but my game has definitely come around.”

Josh became something of a household name in the MMA community with his inclusion on Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter. And while some people have had issue with the way they were portrayed on the show in the past, Burkman seems content with the experience and how he’s perceived coming out of it.

“I think the TV show portrayed all of us really well,” admitted Josh. “I went on that show to fight, that was my thing and unfortunately I broke my arm, well Melvin (Guillard) broke it, I guess I didn’t break it [laughs]. But I think they portrayed me good and I was just happy to get a second chance to be on the show because as you know I was on the first show and I screwed that up myself. So I was glad I got that opportunity, just the fact I was on that show and you guys saw what I have.”

Burkman continued, “The show was a little bit different because when we were fighting we gave it everything we had but we were tired, we were exhausted, because all the training we did. I figured they’d give me another shot, which they ended up doing, but like I said I was just happy to get on the show and have a chance to prove what I’ve got.”

So far Josh has spent a total of just under two minutes in his two live UFC appearances. It’s a fact that while to many might be a surprise, is not one to Burkman, as he admits, he foresaw his success before they happened.

“My first couple fights I felt good, I was really focused and I felt if I was in shape they had no chance,” explained Josh. “I predicted both my fights. I told everyone when I was going down to fight Sam Morgan (TUF 2 Finale), I was like, ‘I’ve got him and I’m going to beat him in 30 seconds.’ I ended up beating him in 21 so I was 9 off [laughs]. The same thing with Drew Fickett, I just had this vibe, I was like, ‘Drew Fickett is going down in the first minute of the first round,’ and I felt good and got him in 1:07.”

Next on Burkman’s plate is a tough challenge that while he’s happy to have, isn’t exactly what he’s looking for. “Now I’ve got John Fitch coming up at the Ultimate Fight Night in April. I don’t know a lot about him, I’m excited about the fight but I want to prove I’ve got what it takes in the welterweight division. I’m also pissed off about this fight too because I want Diego Sanchez, I want guys in the top 10.”

Josh continued, “With Fitch I’m going to make him pay for taking this fight. I’m going to go in and my gameplan is to fight for 15 minutes, to go in and if he hits me fine, if I hit him fine, I’m going to play around for 15 minutes. I want to beat the shit out of him, I don’t want to end the fight, I don’t want to submit him, I don’t want to knock him out, I want to beat the shit out of him for 15 minutes [laughs]. And that’s what I’m telling everybody that’s what I’m going to do because I want to show everybody that I control my fights.”

As for what kind of fight wants, Burkman’s ideal is a fight that will push him to the limit, regardless of win or loss. “I’ve been fighting my whole life and I’ve been in at least 200 street fights. I’ve been hit in the face with a Jack Daniels bottle once and it shattered. I looked at the dude and told him, ‘you better get out of here,’ while blood’s coming down my face. I’ve had 20 MMA fights (combined) and nobody has ever kicked my ass. I’ve been caught in two chokes, once by Horn and another time (against Matt Horwich), but nobody has ever kicked my ass. I want the UFC to give me somebody that they think is going to kick my ass.”

Josh further commented, “Because for me, I’m just as interested in seeing if anyone can kick my ass as anyone else is. I just want to see if somebody can kick my ass because I’m starting to think, ‘what the hell?’ If they kick my ass, I’ll bow down and say, ‘hey you kicked my ass, you’re better than me,’ but I’m 25-years-old and nobody has ever kicked my ass. I know somebody out there can kick my ass and I want to find out who it is. In the UFC that’s what I’m working for, I don’t want to fight just guys, I don’t want them to build me up, I want them to put me in with the best fighter that they think can kick my ass. I want to be the underdog and I want to see how good I am because right now I don’t know. So I hope they give me a top ten, a top five guy, and then I can really show what I’ve got. I want to be a World Champion and I only want to fight guys that get me closer to that.”

One of the key factors in Burkman’s confidence is the new team he has helped assemble in his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s a group of fighters that according to Josh, not only makes him better, but could be making their own headlines this year.

“You know I was up in Oregon with Team Quest and that was awesome, it was the best experience of my life, I had so much fun up there, but I wanted to come home and be around my family,” explained Josh. “Plus I had a lot of fighters in Utah that were with me before I went to Oregon. Now we have Dennis Davis out here, Melvin, and there are other guys interested in coming out here from other teams, but I can’t say their names right now. I started my own martial arts, American I-Hits-You, it’s a little spin off of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, basically it’s my own style, the whole way we fight. I have Dennis Downy, who’s an up and comer, he’s a stud and he’s getting ready to fight in the Canada show with Dennis Davis and also a kid name Jake Paul, Mike Gates and we’ve got a good bunch of up and comers.”

Burkman added, “These guys are in the gym every day beating the hell out of me, so every day I have to bring my A-game because if I don’t, they’re going to kick my ass. So we’ve got a really good group of guys, 27 fighters, we’ve got our own gym. Mike Stidham, he owns the UCTC, which me and him went into partnership on in his gym. He just put $200,000 into the facility, we have saunas, everything is up-to-date, two cages, three rings, it’s just an awesome facility and we have everything we could need. We’re going to have our grand opening, probably around April, maybe after our fight, so I’m really excited to see what happens after we open it up to the public and other fighters.”

With everything happening around him, Josh still remains focused on the task at hand and is thankful to everyone that continues to support him in his career. “My fight’s not going to be on TV so show up live and support me. Besides that I get tons of emails from people just motivating me, giving me props, telling me they’re happy for me and the things that I’m doing. That stuff doesn’t go unnoticed and I appreciate it more than anything.”

“I just want to thank the fans out there for that and my team and everybody in Salt Lake that’s been helping me out. Everyone that’s been helping out us American I-Hits-You guys and I think we’re going to go a long way. They’ve got that IFL thing going and I’d love to get our team in there and whoop up on Bas Rutten’s team and all these other guys, so that’s another thing we are interested in getting into this next year. Expect big things from us guys out here in Utah,” concluded Burkman.