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UFC Fight Night 82's Josh 'Senior Citizen' Burkman ready to become newest Lightweight title contender

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Burkman epitomizes a true warrior. The veteran of 40 professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fights will go out on his sword and give fans a show before the final bell sounds.

However, a downhill start to his second stint with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has Burkman altering his trajectory as the long-time Welterweight will start anew in 2016 in the Lightweight division. It was all his choice and "The People's Warrior" received no pressure from his boss, UFC President Dana White.

"Dana's cool. He told me after my fight with [Patrick] Cote. I lost three-in-a-row and he just hit me up and said, 'Hey, don't worry about your job. You never disappoint me and we don't cut fighters like you'," Burkman told MMAmania.

The Utah native previously won six of seven outside of ZUFFA, but his success in World Series of Fighting (WSOF) didn't seem to follow. Burkman, 35, has thought of shedding the extra 15 pounds to make the 156-pound limit for years and told White as much during their phone conversation.

It's been brewing as he's been continued to lose the strength advantage each time out, starting with former Bellator Middleweight champion Hector Lombard back in Jan. 2015 all the way through to his (technical) knockout loss at the hands of "The Predator," who's also an ex-middleweight, last August.

Fighting as consistently as Burkman has for several years in-a-row will also play a part in how one performs on fight night.

"When I look back on it all, 2015 will have been the toughest year of my career. That fight with Hector; I had a rib injury that ended up being a herniated disc," Burkman recalled. "I took the fight with [Dong Hyun] Kim too soon. I went back into training and the rib acted up again, causing me issues all through that camp."

Prior to his fight with "Stun Gun," it was Burkman's family who were suffering with bronchitis, not to mention his wife was expecting the birth of the couple's second child.

Burkman was at his healthiest prior to the Cote tussle, which was a fight that the American was very much in until he got caught with a counter right hand during the final round of their bout in Canada. It caused him to take a good, hard look in the mirror.

"It made me take a look at where I'm at and where I want to go," Burkman said.

The next few months were mostly spent with his family in Utah. Burkman went out to Hawaii for roughly two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in order to get some quality training in.

He would admit during our conversation that the main difference between his current stint with UFC and his first one that began in Nov. 2005 right after The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 2 was that he was a bit more reckless 10 years ago.

It's an answer that many might expect to come from your average 35-year-old male, but the former college football player has become much more disciplined in all facets of his life, which now includes his diet.

"I think I'm a natural Lightweight," Burkman said.

December is when he found out he would meet Strikeforce veteran K.J. Noons in his first outing at 155 pounds at UFC Fight Night 82 this Saturday night (Feb. 6, 2016). The 33-year-old Karate specialist has underachieved, similar to Burkman, during his UFC career, having put together a 2-2-(1) record.

With that being said, it's a far cry away from his struggles in Strikeforce, but don't let numbers be an indicator. Noons can send you packing quickly.

"I think K.J. Noons is a real good fighter ... a dangerous fighter, but if I come out and perform like I can and like I should then I think come February, everybody is going to realize real fast will realize there's a new contender in the Lightweight division," Burkman emphasized.

It's a new year and a new opportunity to make some noise in a completely different weight class. Burkman enters one of the most talented divisions in all of UFC, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

He's still out to prove he's a top-tier fighter more than 12 years into his career ... even in his advanced fighting age.

"They sent me -- I turned 35 -- I have to get comprehensive testing now where I have get an extra chest x-ray and an EKG. It made me laugh," Burkman remembered. "I was like I can't believe I'm the senior citizen of the UFC. I love what I do and how I approach the sport."

For more UFC Fight Night 82 news and notes click here.

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