Josh Burkman Returns to WSOF With a Giant Win!

World Series of Fighting - Burkman vs. Fitch

Flavio Behring Jiu Jitsu Blackbelt and owner of Absolute MMA, Professor Rob Handley talks about his experience at World Series of Fighting 3, his relationship as a friend, a coach and fan of Josh Burkman and the next generation of Absolute MMA fighters. The World Series of fighting 3, headlined by welterweights Josh Burkman and Jon Fitch, was held at the Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino June 14th, 2013.

Upon hearing about the signing of Jon Fitch to the World Series of fighting I found myself wondering if they would sign the Fitch/Burkman rematch. A fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) held on April 6th, 2006 in which Jon Fitch defeated Josh Burkman by rear naked choke at 4:57 of Round Two. Would they make Fitch earn the opportunity to fight Burkman after Burkmans 2 fight win streak in the WSOF, or give both fighters the shot at doing it all over again 7 years later?

Immediately after Josh Burkmans knockout (KO) of Aaron Simpson in 3:04 of Round One in The World Series of Fighting 2, the same question began to circulate online among MMA fans and aficionados. In the weeks following the Simpson fight Josh returned to the gym, he entered the gym as he normally does in his very casual and friendly manner is greeted with cheers, encouragement and congratulations for his performance… and the same question “Are you going to fight Fitch again”? Interestingly enough I got the answer first hand from Josh and at that moment I knew things were beginning to come together for Josh.

“Yes, it’s going to happen, I signed it!” said Burkman. My response was simple…. “well you didn’t get hurt against Simpson, you’re healthy, a lot of positive things are happening in your life. Now is a great time.” We spoke briefly about how much his life, his career and motivation had changed since the first time they fought. We have been having these types of conversations since before UFC 77 Hostile Territory in Cincinnati, Ohio where he fought Forest Petz, the same night Anderson Silva fought Rich Franklin the second time in 2007.  Over the years we have developed an amazing relationship, something I really respect and very much enjoy.

Immediately we start talking about the strategy of utilizing strengths and weakness and how this fight is going to be different than the first fight. But as quickly as we begin to talk shop the topic of our conversations quickly becomes about our families and sharing stories about our first born sons. Common topics include our amazing wife’s, changing diapers, baby food and the latest new development in the boys.

In the weeks leading up to the fight I followed Josh’s Facebook posts, reading his interviews online and the watching the WSOF promotion and marketing videos. Each time noticing  more and more confidence in his coaches, his teammates, his training and mental preparation for his bout with Jon Fitch.  It’s common for Josh to come and go from Absolute MMA; he trains primarily at the Pit Elevated in Orem, Utah. So we may or may not see him during fight camps, generally between fights and always focusing more on technique than on fighting. Training can’t always be all crash and bang. Sometimes it’s best to just have fun and work on new stuff, grow and evolve as a martial artist, which is often my advice.

Day of the fight arrives and, as I always do, I send Josh a brief text offering some last minute positive re-enforcement, encouragement and thoughts from our collective Art of War. I decided to take a few of the new fighters from the team to Las Vegas to give them the opportunity to see a big show live. Show them that it’s entirely possible and it’s not that far away if they put their minds to it. The experience was far more than I expected. Those boys were glowing from ear to ear. “I like the venue” one said, ” I like sitting next to all the big names” said the other. Both were equally excited about seeing Josh Burkman fight live in person, it’s always different when it’s someone you know. Cage side for most of the evening watching the best of the WSOF was something that will forever change their combative latitudes.

Most of the time the fights for me are all business, while this was definitely one of those times, it was also an opportunity to see many of my friends of 20+ years that had come from Utah to see Josh fight. I got to catch up with Will Farrar of Showdown and The Pit Elevated, Rich Eggett of Rockwell and even UFC lightweight Super Steven Siler. It had been a long time since I sat in the stands and enjoyed a fight so I was really looking forward to it. You see, I spend most of my time in the back wrapping hands, warming  up and preparing fighters to enter the cage. I welcomed the opportunity to watch Josh Burkman fight live while most were at home watching it on network television (NBC).

At one moment during the Jacob Volkmann and Lyle Beerbohm fight, an action packed fight of two very skilled wrestlers, I had a realization that the MMA world is much smaller than I remembered. As I give the gentlemen next to me the play by play because he’s asking a million questions I realize that both of Volkmann and Beerbohm’s coaches are long time friends and former training partners of mine, Professors Greg Nelson of The Academy in Minnesota and Bart Smith of Spokane, Washington . I was immediately proud of their longevity and success in the Arts. It really is a small world.

The show is very well organized and on time due to the airing schedule of NBC. It’s very impressive and everything is exactly as it should be at a big event like the WSOF. If you have every been to an event that’s called by Utahs own Tim Hughes you know the magnitude this guy brings to the excitement of announcing a fight. I think  more shows need to use him because he’s really good at what he does. The event culminates with the main event, each fighter being announced and asked to enter the cage.

Jon Fitch is announced first, entering with his entourage and taking his place in the cage. Josh enters the arena to the song “Monster” by Michael Jackson and 50 cent, he’s followed by his coaches from the Pit Elevated and his longtime cornermen, brother Jered Burkman and father Rudy Burkman. Josh enters the cage taking his place in the cage by calmly and reverently kneeling in his corner facing the center of the cage while Fitch paces anxiously back and forth from side to side in his corner. An amazing 63 fights among the two of them. Steve Mazagatti calls them to the center of the cage, again Josh is calm, still and focused while Jon Fitch anxiously sways side to side, they touch gloves and return to their corners.

Understand that going into this fight Josh was at one point a +437 underdog at the sports book at the Palms (thanks Nic!). It varied throughout the day as many of the guys in my party searched all over town looking for the opportunity to put good money on Josh. The lowest I heard of the line being was near +250 in favor for Fitch. Many of the faithful Burkman supporters found a way to the sports book to get their bets in.

Team Absolute at WSOF

The fight begins.  They two fighters come to the center of the cage and touch gloves. Burkman begins in a southpaw fighting stance. Quickly avoiding an inside leg kick by Fitch and moving backward. Fitch begins to move forward towards Burkman. Burkman immediately reacts by moving laterally along the cage. Fitch again try’s to cut Burkman off and both fighters engage with what looks like something along the effect of mirroring each others level change and a melee of strikes. Burkman rocks Fitch immediately with a short right straight or hook, I couldn’t quit tell,  a left hook, right straight combo dropping Fitch to the floor. Burkman follows up with several left hooks from the turtle position. In an attempt to secure his position Burkman controls the front headlock, Burkman now standing over Fitch in the front headlock Burkman sees the opportunity for the guillotine and reaches deep securing a very tight grip, both fighters look to stumble and Burkman falls masterfully into his half guard. Fitch resists but doesn’t really attempt to escape once its on the ground. The choke is not only on deep but it’s tight and Burkman has his legs controlling Fitch. It’s a split second once it hits the ground, Burkman gives a little more squeeze and Fitch’s legs are visibly limp, Burkman immediately rolls Fitch over and stands up raising his hand to the crowd. Fitch is unconscious. Burkman wins in 41 seconds of the first round. Once Fitch awakes he is visibly upset. A moment of celebration for the Burkman camp, I have to admit, I have never in my life found my self yelling so loudly that I have lost my voice until this evening, if anyone in the fight game  knows me they know its not my style. The crowd is completely blown away, the arena is erupts, we’ve witnessed something great.  It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that kind of domination in a main event with fighters of this experience and skill level.

A amazing finish to a long night of high level fights, Burkman is now 3-0 in the WSOF each time going into each fight an underdog. Burkman is also 9-1 since leaving the UFC. Burkman was able to do something in this fight that not even the greats like Damien Maia, BJ Penn and current UFC Champion George St. Pierre have been able to do by submitting Jon Fitch. This was the biggest fight of Josh Burkmans career up to this point. A huge win, boy what a way to make statement. The results of your fights are absolutely a reflection of how you live your life Mr. Burkman.

At this point in his career he seems be really focused, highly motivated and getting better everyday. Taking the year off after the Pete Sell loss, focusing on himself, surrounding himself with great people, getting married and having a son has had a profound effect on him. He’s a different fighter than ever before, Don’t sleep on Josh Burkman because he’s doing great things. I’m happy to share in his success and enjoy where his career is headed.

Thanks to the staff of World Series of Fighting for hosting an incredible event. Thank you to all the fighters who left it all in the cage, regardless of the outcome. To all my long time friends who came out to watch, I enjoyed seeing you all, lets do it again. To my young fighters in the gym at Absolute MMA, the path before you has been paved by great men and now great women. Listen to your coaches, help your training partners, respect the fight, pay attention, work hard and keep doing great things.

Evan Tanner, Rob Handley and Josh Burkman