Deseret News
Fighter looking to move forward

By Brad Rock
Deseret Morning News

As Rafael Palmeiro squirms and Barry Bonds fumes, Josh “The People’s Warrior” Burkman comes clean.

About his street fighting, partying and use of steroids.

“I’m not gonna deny it. I messed up and I know I messed up,” he says.

‘Roids, he figured, were part of the deal in his line of work. At least until he got booted off a TV reality show called “The Ultimate Fighter” last year for testing positive.

“Best thing that ever happened to me,” he says of his failure to pass the steroid test. “It changed me.”

Now he’s back and the Salt Lake native is hoping for a rematch with the one of the world’s top-rated ultimate fighters, Jeremy Horn, also of Salt Lake.

“I don’t like him,” says the 25-year-old Burkman. “I don’t hate him but I just don’t care about him.”

That tends to happen when someone chokes you into unconsciousness and spits in your face.

Page 3,962 of the Josh Burkman Book of Hard Knocks and Extreme Violence comes Monday night on Spike TV, when he appears in “The Ultimate Fighter 2,” a reality show in which participants compete to win a $100,000 UFC contract. Though all but the title match has already been filmed, Burkman is sworn to secrecy. But if optimism is any indication, plan on seeing him in the championship bout in November. From there he hopes to move on to regular UFC competition.

If things work as planned, he’ll be fighting Horn sometime next year, with the chance to avenge the second loss of his pro career.

“I owe him one,” says Burkman.

By Burkman’s account, the April 29 fight with Horn went down like this: He made a tactical mistake and was caught in a chokehold. But rather than “tapping out” to indicate he was through, he continued fighting. Next thing he knew, he was waking from a fog. He didn’t realize Horn had spit on him until his brother later asked why he would shake the hand of someone who had so disrespected him.

“It showed he has absolutely no class,” says Burkman.

Horn had previously bragged “he was going to put my blood in the front row.” When that didn’t happen, Burkman contends Horn entertained the crowd by hocking in his opponent’s face.

Nobody said it’s a night at the opera.

Burkman’s career began as it does for most who get involved in a sport that combines karate, jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling and a dash of good old-fashioned street scrap: He fought. In parking lots, nightclubs, on streets.

The pay’s bad but the chicks dig it.

OK, a certain type of chicks digs it.

Ultimate fighting, or mixed martial arts, actually does have rules. You can’t wrench fingers, head-butt, pull hair or groin-attack. But you can knee or kick the opponent in the head, tackle him or pummel him when he’s on the mat.

Fighters are also banned from demonstrating “timidity” or throwing in the towel.

In this sport, you’re in ’til you’re out.

A three-sport star at Cottonwood High, Burkman admits to a woolly past. He fought in at least 100 street fights, mostly “just to see if I could kick someone’s butt.”

From there it was on to a football career at Snow College, then Dixie State, where he rushed for more than 1,500 yards. Along the way he tried to get into the Army Rangers but was tossed out for (surprise!) fighting with his instructor.

“My captain said the military’s not for you,” he says.

For a few years, neither was civilian life, if you want to get technical.

He planned to move on to the University of Utah, to play for Urban Meyer, when he entered his first mixed martial arts event, at Salt Lake’s Club Axis in 2003. He was in what he calls “great football shape,” but not ultimate fighting shape. He lost.

Still, he says, it was a rush he’d never experienced, even when skydiving in the Army.

“Between rounds I sat there and thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ”

Burkman went on to win 10 straight bouts. But then came the loss to Horn. Now he’s hoping to earn another shot, first by winning the UF2 competition on TV, then moving on.

Where he once fought for $100, he now plans to make a living in the UFC, the major leagues of ultimate fighting. If he does, he could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a night. He passed all drug tests for this year’s TV show and says now he not only eschews alcohol, but also caffeine. He also says he’s stopped his partying, which should extend his career.

“Depending on what happens on the show,” he says with a knowing smile, “I want to be the best in the world.”

If not, at least he can console himself by getting paid for what he used to do in parking lots for free.