Joshua Burkman made his lightweight debut against K.J. Noons at UFC Fight Night on Feb. 6, and while “The People’s Warrior” got the unanimous decision victory that evening, the overall experience was not a pleasant one for the 41-fight veteran.
“Last fight I hadn’t weighed 155 pounds since eighth grade. That’s the first time I’ve weighed that in over 20 years,” Burkman said during an appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “I think that when I went to Vegas I was 180 pounds…When I got to Vegas my body just didn’t want to go under 175 pounds. I was doing everything I normally do at 170 pounds except for my body didn’t want to cut the weight. So the day before weigh-ins I was still 175 pounds. That night I had to go and start cutting weight, and I was 173 after not eating pretty much all day. It was 18 pounds in about 12 hours is what it was.”
Somehow, Burkman tipped the scales at 156 pounds and outworked Noons over the course of three rounds the following evening, ending an eight-year drought between Octagon triumphs. Burkman expects both his weight cut and performance to be improved this time around as he faces Paul Felder in a featured 155-pound tilt at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Sunday. The evening’s main card, headlined by a bantamweight clash between Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt, airs on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
“The chemistry and makeup of my body changed after that weight cut. I became a little bit of a smaller human being to where I haven’t got above 180, really 185 pounds since that fight, where before I’d get back to …I started that training camp at 192 pounds,” he said. “I trained really about 180 pounds this whole time. I’m pretty light; I’m 172.
“You’ll see, my body’s different. I’m leaner -- but, being leaner, I’m faster. It’s crazy how strong I feel. I look like a lightweight now. I’m much leaner. I feel like I belong in this weight class now where before I feel like I was having to do too big of a cut, too drastic of a change to my body to make that weight for my fight with K.J. Noons.”
Burkman initially left the UFC on the heels of three consecutive losses in 2008. He proceeded to win nine of his next 11 bouts outside the promotion, capturing wins over Octagon vets Jon Fitch, Aaron Simpson and Gerald Harris under the World Series of Fighting banner in the process. That success brought him back to the UFC, where he went winless in his first three outings at 170 pounds.
In a new weight class with a victory already under his belt, Burkman feels primed to make a run in the lightweight division. That starts with Felder, a 31-year-old fighter who has finishes of Daron Cruickshank and Danny Castillo during his tenure with the organization.
“I’ve fought some of the best guys in the world, and I fought the best guys in the world when they were the very best that they’ve been,” Burkman said. “... I’m thinking I’m fighting the best Paul Felder there is. He’s in the prime of his career. I’m older and a veteran and I’ve had a lot of fights. Where am I now, I think it’s a perfect fight to show where I’m at, that at 36 years old my body feels better than it has probably ever. I feel like this is a powerful moment in my career, and I feel like I’m about to go on another run similar to World Series of Fighting.”
In fact, Burkman believes he now has the potential to fight well into his 40s. The weight cut has a lot to do with that, and it’s something that would not have been possible earlier in his professional MMA tenure.
“Part of that is for 23 years I trained to be a football player. I had a lot of thick muscle on my body. It’s taken a lot of years to lean down. Through this process I’ve gotten so much healthier,” he said. “My portion size is better, the way that I eat is better.…It’’s gonna give me five more years, 10 more years if I want. My body is moving better. My chiropractor is like, ‘I can’t believe how well your spine is moving now.’ I think just the hydration level, the way I’m eating more natural foods. I don’t eat any gluten, no cheese, no things that just block your body up. It’s caused my body to feel better and move better. I’m about to show that.”
Fighting longevity is a goal Burkman set early in his career, when he moved out to Oregon to work with Randy Couture, who won at title at age won a title at 44 and competed until just shy of his 48th birthday. Using “The Natural” as inspiration, Burkman feels he could just be getting started.
“Ever since I started I wanted to have a career like Randy Couture’s, and it’s part of the reason I moved to this weight class,” he said. “I knew if I could manage my weight, I can compete with the very best in the world at 55. I’ve definitely modeled my career after Randy, and I wanted to fight late in my career like he did. I want to be the best when I retire and I think I have a shot to do that.”