When Josh Burkman's UFC career ended in 2008, he knew he wasn't finished.
His 5-5 run inside the Octagon had been a learning process, but perhaps his biggest lesson he took from the way things ended concerned fighting with injuries. With no special health insurance during his stint in the promotion, he stepped into the Octagon injured three straight times in '08 and didn't win once.
After receiving his walking papers, "The People's Warrior" took a year off to completely recuperate from his injuries and decided he'd give it another go.
Since then, he hasn't looked better, going 6-1 the last three years and most recently coming off a unanimous decision victory over UFC veteran Gerald Harris in his debut with World Series of Fighting this past November.
Burkman will look to let the good times roll against another UFC alum when he takes on Aaron Simpson this Saturday night (March 23, 2013) on the World Series of Fighting II main card in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The resurgent welterweight was a guest on Bloody Elbow Radio where he discussed his recent win over Harris, what he expects against Aaron Simpson and why he wants Jon Fitch next in this interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You came out and were very aggressive against Gerald Harris with a very impressive performance in your last fight. Do you think that helped prove you belong among the top welterweights outside the UFC right now?
Josh Burkman: Yeah, I think that was one of the reasons I was so excited to get an opponent like Gerald Harris. I think at times I'm still judged by how my career ended in the UFC and when I was there I was injured, was unable to train the way I wanted to train and I was on my way out in my last three fights just because I wasn't healthy and I wasn't able to train like a professional fighter. With Gerald Harris, that was my first fight on a big stage again. The rest of my fights were on smaller shows, local shows, things like that so it was big for me too. I didn't know how I was going to match up with his wrestling with him dropping down to welterweight.
For me, it was a great test to prove I am back and I can hang with some of the top welterweights outside the UFC. It was good for me and I believed it was gonna happen, but a lot of people have the belief and it doesn't end up going that way. (laughs) It was nice and I feel like Aaron Simpson's in that same thing. Gerald Harris had a winning record in the UFC and Aaron Simpson had a winning record in the UFC. These guys are guys that could still be there. They just got released for whatever reason.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): While your win over Harris was a great victory, not many people got to see it because it was on the preliminary card. How does it feel to have so much more promotion behind your fight this time around considering you're on the main card and going against another UFC veteran in Aaron Simpson?
Josh Burkman: I think, for me, it's all in perfect time. I took a year off when I got injured after UFC to see if I could get healthy and fighting again. My goal wasn't to get right back in the UFC, it was just to fight in the local shows and see if I was the best guy in Utah still and to prove that I could still compete at a high level. When I got on with World Series of Fighting, it was like that same thing. My wife, this fighting stuff is new to her. She wasn't with me when I was in the UFC and we had just had a baby, he was three weeks old and she brought him. It was kinda nice that it wasn't so high profile because I was just easing my wife into it.
Now, with the higher profile fight comes more interviews, more exposure, and with that being said, it's nice to have a bigger stage to perform on and that's how we get paid. At this point, I'm really excited that World Series of Fighting signed this long-term contract with NBC and I'm glad to be where I'm at and that I signed a contract with these guys.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were originally scheduled to face Ryan LaFlare, more of an up-and-coming prospect and now you're going against a battle-tested veteran in Aaron Simpson who's probably extremely motivated to show he's still got it after UFC didn't extend his contract. Can you talk a bit about the opponent switch and what that means for you?
Josh Burkman: For me, I was really excited about the change. When I told my coach I was fighting Ryan LaFlare, he looked at film and said, "He's a tough guy, but I think you can beat him any way you want." I say that humbly with respect to Ryan LaFlare, but that's what my coach said, not me. When they switched to Aaron Simpson, he's a veteran, he's had a lot of good fights in the UFC. For me, my goal is not just to go out and win fights anymore. It's to fight the best people I can and to climb the ladder up the welterweight division as fast as possible.
That's what I told World Series of Fighting when I signed with them. I told them I wanted to fight Harris and prove I'm one of the top welterweights in the organization and I wanted them to bring bigger names in and I wanted to become a feature name. I wanted to win the title and prove I'm one of the best welterweights in the world. Aaron Simpson can help me continue along that path of my goals and being able to reach the things I want to reach. I didn't think Ryan LaFlare was a step up from Gerald Harris where Aaron Simpson, having just left UFC is a step up.
Matt Bishop: Would you like a rematch against Jon Fitch if you beat Aaron Simpson?
Josh Burkman: Yeah, absolutely. When I found out they signed Fitch, I said I think winning this fight puts me in line for a title shot in World Series of Fighting. I know they're looking to give out those titles soon and I think them signing Fitch, they signed him for that reason. I don't think anyone can come into an organization coming off a loss and get a title shot so I think the winner of this fight and the winner of Fitch and Harris is what I'm hearing, I think they should line those winners up.
Fitch is one of those fights I've always wanted back. I feel like me and Fitch are headed towards each other and I'm looking forward to it if it happens....I don't think I was at my best when I was in the UFC. I was learning on the job and I was injured. I think I'm at my best now and the best part of my career is in the next few years and guys like Jon Fitch and Aaron Simpson are going to help me prove that and without those signings, I wouldn't be able to do it. That's why I'm so grateful that WSOF has been aggressive signing big names.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've won six of your last seven fights and have looked great doing it, but that one loss was when you left the comfort zone of Utah or Nevada to go fight Jordan Mein in Canada. Is there any concern about leaving for the east coast in Atlantic City?
Josh Burkman: No, my only concern was if I was fighting a Canadian in Canada and I have to make sure to not go to any more decisions. Even with the Jordan Mein fight, I took that on short notice, had to cut a lot of weight and I don't feel like I lost that fight. I feel like I lost a decision to a Canadian in Canada. I visualize and put myself in those situations and I like those moments. I like pressure. What do they say, pressure makes diamonds, right? If you can't handle it, I guess you're in the wrong sport.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Aaron Simpson is 38 years and is coming off his release. Do you think he's on a decline as he enters this fight or is he still getting better?
Josh Burkman: Well, we'll see. We're about to find out. I watched his last two fights. I usually don't watch guys' old fights but I watched his last two fights and he looked real good against Kenny Robertson and he looked great against Mike Pierce until he got caught. I'm sure he's very hungry and he feels like he has something to prove. I started out my career training with Randy Couture and a lot of times, age is just a number. If you take care of yourself and you're training right, you may be at your best at your late 30s and early 40s. I'll give him the respect he deserves and I expect to face the best Aaron Simpson that there is.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you think he'll be as aggressive this time around considering he's coming off such a tough knockout to Pierce? It took him a while to gain that back the last time after he got stopped by Chris Leben.
Josh Burkman: I would think so. I would think he'll still be aggressive. Whether he wants to stand up and bang as much, I don't know. Maybe he'll go back to his wrestling a little bit more. Those are things that once we get in the fight that I'll have to try and figure out. I don't try to figure out what they're going to do. When I watch film to prepare for a guy, I'm just looking for generally what he does, what he's good at and then prepare for all those aspects of the game. For the fight, you don't know where you're gonna go. I train jiu-jitsu and stand-up so wherever this fight goes, I'm ready for it.
For me, I was really aggressive early in my career and I had to learn to be less aggressive so I could get guys to be more aggressive towards me and play off of that so I wasn't always chasing. I hope he's aggressive because that puts us both where we want to be and I'll feel comfortable in this fight. Against Gerald Harris, I was prepared to fight off my back. This is the same type of fight where he's got really good wrestling. It's not the place I want to be but we'll see really soon which Aaron Simpson is gonna show up.
Matt Bishop: When you visualize this fight in your head against Aaron Simpson, how does it go?
Josh Burkman: It's an exciting fight. I'm an artist and I want to make it look good. I think Aaron Simpson's gonna come out and be strong at first but I think there's some places I'll be able to find some openings and I think I'm gonna knock Aaron Simpson out and it's gonna put me on a path and a collision course for Jon Fitch and a title shot in World Series of Fighting. Let's do it and yeah, I think I'm gonna knock him out.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @JoshBurkman.