‘The Fire’ Inside Kevin Burns

By Mike Sloan Jul 15, 2008
It made perfect sense.

With only six professional bouts under his belt, Kevin Burns was a massive underdog going into his UFC 85 fight against emerging contender Roan Carneiro (Pictures). Instead of getting tapped by the Brazilian jiu-jitsu maestro, however, Burns wound up submitting him via triangle choke midway through the second round.

A phantom welterweight from Iowa had tapped out a submission guru. Suddenly fans were introduced to "The Fire."

"I guess I believed in myself, and the people around me who I train with believed I could beat him, too," Burns said. "Going into that fight, you could expect other people to not believe that [outcome] because I was the unknown coming in. I didn't expect anybody else to give me a prayer to win that fight."

But Burns did win, and his triumph came in emphatic fashion. It's not every day that a fighter submits a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt at his own game.

"I didn't think that I would win in the fashion that I did because I wanted to keep the fight standing," Burns said. "I wanted to rattle him and potentially knock him out on his feet, but I didn't expect to actually sub him. The opportunity was there, so I took it."

It's well known that when a novice enters the Octagon for the first time, often his stamina instantly depletes and his game plan is thrown out the window. It's known as UFC jitters, but Burns, who got his nickname due to his intense training regime, seemed immune to the disease that has crippled so many before him.

"I wasn't overly nervous more so than for any other fight," he said matter-of-factly. "I was fine when I got the call and made the trip. I told my main coach, Chris David (Pictures), that I have to take this in stride. I knew that I had to stay grounded and understand that a fight's a fight regardless if it's in front of 20,000 people or 5,000 people or in a small venue. I blocked out the crowd to where I didn't even look at them when I walked up to the Octagon and just focused on Roan."

After Carneiro's original opponent, Ryo Chonan (Pictures), had cancelled due to injury, Burns was scurried along into what appeared to be a showcase fight for Carneiro. If featuring the Brazilian was the plan, it backfired.

Burns had just come off the biggest win of his career against Bobby Voelker, and his manager contacted UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. When Chonan got hurt, Burns explained, the UFC needed a fighter at 170 pounds who had a passport. Burns fit the mold. Zuffa signed him quickly and sent him off to England.

Beating "Jucao" was certainly the high point thus far for the resident of Des Moines, Iowa. But the full-time commercial leasing rep for Wells Fargo, who is also a part-time baseball and softball umpire, knows the hard work has just begun.

A native of a small town called Glidden in rural Iowa, the former defensive back for the University of South Dakota has his feet planted firmly on the ground. Like so many up-and-coming prospects, Burns feels he is among the best in his weight class. That mentality pushes him because he covets absolute proof that he is the best. Until he topples some bigger names, though, he said he couldn't even begin to label himself the best in the sport.

"I honestly think I'm somewhere in the middle of the rankings," Burns said of his status during a 15-minute break at work. "I think I made a great step in defeating Roan. For me to sit here and tell you that I should be at the top is foolish because I think there are still so many other top competitors that I have to prove myself against in the UFC. I need to beat or at least compete with these fighters before I even consider myself in that position. I'm not some arrogant person who says that I'm the best and I should be fighting GSP tomorrow, because I honestly don't believe that. When that time comes, I'll be ready for it."

That time will come without question as long as he continues to turn in impressive outings like the one against Carneiro on June 7 in London. Burns' next foe is power-punching Anthony Johnson at Saturday's UFC Fight Night. A sturdy test no doubt, and Burns is prepared for whatever his promising opponent will bring to the table.

"He looks really good, especially in his last fight," he said of Johnson. "He obviously favors striking, and something I'll try to avoid is his power. I'm comfortable in my striking ability and I believe I can strike with him, but I also have many other facets of my game to work with. As long as I can avoid his punching power and fight my fight, I don't see why I shouldn't beat him. I don't think he likes to fight off his back, so I'll make sure to put him there and avoid his strengths."

Johnson seemed to be just another would-be contender after Rich Clementi (Pictures) had submitted him. He received little attention going into his fight with Tom Speer (Pictures), but he blew away Speer in the first round with devastating punches. Now, like Burns but on a grander scale, Johnson is a hot commodity in the UFC.

"It's tough because he was made to be lesser of a fighter when he lost to Clementi, but now that he knocked out Speer convincingly, he's now one of the emerging stars in the division," Burns said. "I'm kinda right there with him in that sense. It should be good. It's a good test for both of us, and I know a win over somebody as dangerous as Johnson will get me that much closer in the rankings."
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