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Out of the Blue: exclusive interview with Kevin Burns

kevin burns

To the casual mixed martial arts fan, Kevin Burns (6-1) might not be a household name. But don’t let that fool you. This guy’s full of surprises.

He came out of nowhere (Iowa, actually) to take a fight on just nine days notice against Roan Carneiro at UFC 85: "Bedlam" and submitted the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in the second round, earning "Submission of the Night." This feat is made all the more impressive when you consider that Burns is just a blue belt. But you couldn’t tell by watching the fight.

In fact, the extremely composed Burns says he’s more comfortable on his feet. And he’ll be given every chance to prove that when he squares off against the heavy-hitting Anthony "Rumble" Johnson (5-1) at UFC Fight Night 14 this Saturday, July 19 at "The Pearl" at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fight has all the potential for a slugfest, and Burns promises there will be fireworks. Somebody is going to sleep in this fight.

We caught up with Burns to find out his thoughts about his upcoming opponent, see how that $50,000 in bonus money is treating him, and to ask if he truly does have ice in his veins.

Adam Wagner ( Before your UFC debut, your biggest win was probably against Bobby Voelker (15-5), who isn’t largely known outside of Midwest promotions by most fans. In fact, is it true that you had never fought professionally outside of Iowa?

Kevin Burns
: Correct.

Adam Wagner ( So you went from fighting in a lot of good promotions in Iowa to not only fighting in the UFC, but also fighting overseas. How was that?

Kevin Burns: (Laughs) It was pretty nuts to be honest with you. When my manager called, he said, "I think you have a chance to fight in the UFC, is your passport in order?" I said, "Yeah, my passport’s fine. When are we talking?" He said, "June 7." This was on May 29 (when he called). I was like, "… Nine days from now?" He was like, "Yeah." I was like, "I’ll fight anybody, I don’t care, let’s do it."

It was interesting. It didn’t really sink in for a couple days that I was going across the pond to fight, but finally when it did, I was like: task at hand. I scrambled with my coaches to get a game plan together and get ready for the fight.

Adam Wagner ( What’s even crazier is that not only did you have such a short time to prepare, but you were also facing Roan Carneiro, whose a three-fight UFC veteran (up to that point), a BJJ black belt, a Pan-Am BJJ Champion, who had only been stopped inside the Octagon by Jon Fitch. That had to been crazy. What was going through your mind when you found out he was your opponent?

Kevin Burns: It was kind of exciting, because I knew going into it that it would be an opportunity that, if I could come out with a victory, it would really propel me onto the UFC stage. That excited me. When I looked at it, I had everything in the world to gain, and he had everything in the world to lose. I went in there with the mindset that this was the opportunity for me to go after my dream.

Adam Wagner ( You looked extremely composed in your fight with Carneiro, which was impressive because it was such a large leap forward for you in terms of promotion and the pay-per-view and everything. Was that a good poker face, or do you have ice in your veins?

Kevin Burns: Yeah (the fight) wasn’t shown, but…

Adam Wagner ( Yeah, I actually watched your fight on MySpace. Someone had posted it.

Kevin Burns: I don’t know who posted it, but I definitely had a chance to see it there as well. I actually bought it on the UFC On Demand site, and found out a day later that someone had posted it (on MySpace).

But I always try to be as composed as possible going into a fight. I didn’t want to let the overall UFC thing get to my nerves at all. I kept telling myself at the end of the day a fight’s a fight.

I’ve been in the cage before. Thankfully the promotions I’ve been fighting in in Iowa had a full-size circle cage from Throwdown Circle Cage, similar to what they have in EliteXC. I’ve been in that size of cage before, so everything really worked out and didn’t play against me.

Adam Wagner (
: In that fight, you were a late replacement, as you said, for Ryo Chonan. So you only had nine days to prepare for this fight?

Kevin Burns: Yeah, I had nine days.

Adam Wagner ( Do you think in some ways that actually worked to your advantage in the sense that Carneiro also only had a short amount of time to prepare for you — of course, he had been preparing to fight, but against a different opponent — but he didn’t necessarily know you and might have had to change his game plan at the last minute.

Kevin Burns: Right. I guess he really prepared for Ryo Chonan, who is really a ground guy as well. But I think he was prepared for a ground fight, that’s where he ended up taking it. Had I had my way with the fight, I would have tried to keep it standing the entire time. Obviously with his credentials, I respected that — you can do nothing but. So I thought it would be smart for me to try to keep it standing if I could.

I think he was training for the fight that he had. It definitely played to my advantage that he didn’t know a whole lot about me. But honestly if he would have had more time to prepare, I don’t think he would have still known a lot about me, nor would I have been in a position to have that fight. Typically, the UFC wouldn’t have given me Roan Carneiro. They wouldn’t have thought in a million years that that was something I could handle or be ready for coming into it.

Adam Wagner ( You earned $50,000 for "Submission of the Night." How’d that feel, especially after seemingly coming out of nowhere for a lot of UFC fans, it has to make you more known now?

Kevin Burns: You’re right. It definitely was. It was a pretty cool way to make your way into the UFC. Going into it, I just wanted to win the fight. I didn’t really think about "Submission of the Night" or get caught up in that. My first goal was to go in there and win the fight. If anything else happened, it would just be a bonus, no pun intended.

And it definitely was. I was able to pay off some debt, and financially put myself in a position to ask my boss to move me into a part-time role at Wells Fargo, which was pretty cool.

Adam Wagner ( You just answered my next two questions. I was going to ask if you had any big plans for the bonus money, and then also, in your post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, you mentioned that you are a full-time banker.

Kevin Burns: I’m in leasing, actually. I work for Wells Fargo, but most people wouldn’t know if I said I’m a commercial leasing rep that sells financing to phone and copy vendors, they would probably be like, "What?" So it’s easier to say I’m with Wells Fargo. But truly I’m in the finance side and work with copy as well as phone vendors, kinda like Canon. We sell financing to people like that. That’s what we do.

Adam Wagner ( So not that we want to ruin your reputation with your employer, but do you plan to one day segue into a full-time fighter?

Kevin Burns: Absolutely, and they’re well aware of that actually. I talked to them beforehand, and they knew when I got the opportunity to fight in London that that was taking a significant step up in the ranks of MMA.

When I came back, they realized I had won that bonus and was able to pay off my student loans, I paid off my wife’s car, and financially put myself in a real good situation. And I told them flat out that the competition I’m going up against from here on out, I really need the time to focus.

I really do. It would be stupid for me not to do that. I can always go back and work. I’ve gathered enough skill sets working in the professional world for eight years that, if it didn’t work out for whatever reason, I can always go back and do that. My body won’t fight forever.

I actually applied for a part-time position training people to do what I used to do full-time. And on July 1, I actually took that position and reduced my schedule to 20 hours a week, and that’s been very nice in helping me get ready for my upcoming opponent and for future fights.

Adam Wagner ( Are you still a blue belt?

Kevin Burns: (Laughs) I am still a blue belt.

Adam Wagner ( (Laughs) Did you hear Rogan talking about how if he could bump you up he would?

Kevin Burns: Yeah, I did. It was kind of funny. I had actually just got the fourth stripe on my blue belt in the middle of May. May 18, actually, was the day that Caique — that’s who we have our jiu-jitsu through is Henrique "Caique" Elias — and he had come out, we had a seminar, and I was presented with the fourth stripe on my blue belt. I was happy with that.

But sometime down the road, I’ll probably have a chance to get my purple belt, I would imagine, if I keep working as hard as I have been.

Adam Wagner ( Well let’s talk about your next opponent. You are now slated to face another three-fight UFC veteran in Anthony Johnson, also on short notice — I’m sensing a pattern here. Do you prefer fighting without much down time in between fights, or — and I understand the event was hastily put together by the UFC — are you just taking advantage of getting in while you can?

Kevin Burns: I had initially had my manager call Joe Silva right away when I got back from London and basically asked and pleaded to please put me back in that cage as fast as you can. I was in good shape, I didn’t have any real damage coming out of the fight, and coming off something like that, the best thing I would do is to get right back into the cage.

Initially they thought about scheduling the fight for the August 9 show in Minneapolis (UFC 87). That was kind of ideal, and I said, "We’d like to do something in August," and then they decided to move it up, and we had the opportunity for a main card fight. And for a main card fight, I’d do it tomorrow if I had to, but July 19, that works.

So after this, depending on my body, I’d like to take a couple of months. There’s a UFC Fight Night close to home on September 17 in Omaha, Nebraska (UFC Fight Night 15). I would love to fight on that show if the UFC would allow me to do it.

Adam Wagner ( Yeah, it’d be close to home.

Kevin Burns: It really would. About as close as it’s going to get, and I’d truly enjoy that. But it’s a matter of getting through this first. And I’m looking at the opportunity to do that. Every couple of months I feel like I’m ready to go, and I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to keep fighting.

Adam Wagner ( They’ve also talked about UFC 90 potentially heading to Chicago — this is on October 25, I think. I don’t know if that’s set in stone or anything, but that’s another one that’s pretty close to home as well.

Anthony Johnson is known for having pretty solid standup and has been training kicks with Cung Le out in California. Does that concern you, and how do you see your stand-up comparing to his?

Kevin Burns: It doesn’t concern me. I have to have nothing but respect for the power that (Johnson) has in his hands. And if he’s developing his kicking skills, he’s extremely athletic, so I’d imagine that he’d pick that up pretty quick. But I think my striking skills match up pretty well with him.

I had to be very conservative when I fought Roan Carneiro, mainly because I knew he was going to be trying to shoot at every opportunity he possibly could. And he did. So I had to be very conservative in what I did from a striking perspective.

Knowing Anthony Johnson from what I’ve seen on video as well as who he is, he wants to stand up, sprawl and brawl and strike. That’s who he is. That’s okay, but that also allows me to not be so concentrated on defending the takedown that I can stand up and strike myself.

I really think the fight is shaping up to be fireworks for fans, because I have every intention to stand, I know he has every intention to stand, and usually when that happens somebody ends up going to sleep (laughs). So I would imagine this is probably going to be the same.

Adam Wagner ( Do you consider yourself more of a stand-up fighter?

Kevin Burns: I am definitely more of a striker than I am a ground guy. I’ve picked up the ground second and after I had been striking for quite some time. That was my first exposure to the disciplines of martial arts, with taekwondo and Muay Thai.

I didn’t do taekwondo for long, it didn’t quite have the contact I was looking for. Then I got into traditional Muay Thai. I was very fortunate there was some families that moved here from Thailand that are in my hometown, some of which were very good kick boxers. That’s who I’ve always trained with and I’m very fortunate that they were here.

They’ll be out with me at my fight this time. They couldn’t make the fight in London — I was only able to bring one of my coaches, unfortunately, at that short of notice, but I’ll have my full corner with me for this one.

Adam Wagner ( Johnson has said that he thinks jiu-jitsu is "the most boring part (of MMA) … rolling around with some other dude." Considering you just submitted Roan Carneiro, if this fight does go to the ground, it’s going to be interesting to see just how bored he gets.

Kevin Burns: I definitely feel I have the advantage on the ground I would say, based on what I’ve seen from him. I know he has a pretty extensive wrestling background, his submissions and stuff are where they are.

I saw him fighting out of multiple submissions when he fought (Rich) Clementi (at UFC 76), but again, against Clementi I expect to see a different fighter. He took that fight on very short notice and had to drop a lot of weight, and that takes a lot out of a guy. I don’t expect to see that fighter on five weeks notice, I expect to see somebody in shape and ready to sprint for three rounds. If not, then shame on him, but I fully expect he will be.

But this fight should have fireworks. I know it’s what the fans want, I know it’s what the UFC wants. Obviously they want high impact action. Those are the fighters that stay around. I want to be in the UFC for a while, so I’ll give the fans what they want.

Adam Wagner ( Well Kevin, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Lastly, do you have any parting words for the fans, or would you like to thank any sponsors?

Kevin Burns: I’d like to thank Premier Fighter. And to the fans I’d like to say hope you enjoy the performances I bring to the table, and as I have the opportunity to showcase more of my skills, I think they’ll be able to see more of what I’m all about. I enjoyed being a fan of the sport before I competed almost as much as I enjoy competing in it … almost. (laughs)

But I know what they like to see, and I fully intend to bring it.

Adam Wagner ( Thanks, Kevin. We look forward to seeing you do just that this weekend.

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