Three strikes and you’re out: when it comes to employment as a UFC fighter, that’s generally the rule. Of course, there are exceptions to this precedent—they’re usually made for action-fighters like Dan Hardy, Leonard Garcia and Alessio Sakara—but for the most part, it’s three consecutive losses and you’re gone. Such was the case for Josh Burkman back in 2008. Despite a decent start with the organization, he was sent packing after successive losses to Mike Swick, Dustin Hazelett and Pete Sell.
After his UFC release, Burkman spent four years skipping around regional organizations, where he amassed a strong 5-1 record, losing only to Jordan Mein in that stretch. And though there were no signs that the UFC was interested in taking him back, his success in these smaller leagues eventually led him to become one of the first fighters picked up by an upstart organization called World Series of Fighting—which has since emerged as one of MMA’s premier promotions.
Burkman really found his groove as a WSOF welterweight. In his first two bouts with the organization, he soundly defeated UFC veterans Gerald Harris and Aaron Simpson. Then, he reached the height of his WSOF success by submitting former UFC title challenger Jon Fitch in just 41 seconds. The win turned him into one of the organization’s very first stars, and earned him a shot at its inaugural welterweight championship against Steve Carl. Unfortunately, Burkman came up short in this title bout, losing by fourth-round submission, and having some serious momentum halted in the process. When he knocked out Tyler Stinson in his next bout, however, the experienced welterweight received a pleasant surprise: a call from the UFC, and an invitation to rejoin its welterweight roster.
Of course, there would be no tune-up fight for Burkman. Having been released from the organization before, he would really have to prove his mettle during his second UFC stint. As such, he was thrown to the welterweight wolves the second the starter pistol sounded. In his first bout back with the organization, Burkman drew former Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard, who was riding the momentum of one-sided victories over Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields at the time. And though Lombard would test positive for banned substances not long after the bout, rendering it a no-contest, it was far from a cause for celebration for Burkman. The former WSOF staple was outfought from bell-to-bell.
Things became no easier for Burkman in his next UFC bout, when he was paired with Dong Hyun Kim on the undercard of a stacked UFC 187. This time around, he found himself on the wrong end of a third-round arm-triangle choke, which catches us up to the present. Despite his no-contest with Lombard, he remains winless in his first two bouts back with the UFC. And because he’s already been released by the organization once before, an additional loss could spell disaster for the experienced welterweight.
The thing is—despite his failure to win either of his first two bouts back in the Octagon—Burkman really is one hell of a fighter. He’s amassed a strong 27-11 record over a nearly 40-fight career. He’s knocked out 7 of his previous opponents, and submitted 10 of them. He’s bested the likes of Josh Neer, Drew Fickett, as well as the aforementioned Harris, Simpson and Fitch. Burkman is a well-rounded, experienced, and entertaining veteran, and though his career is certainly nearing its twilight, he very much deserves his current spot on the UFC roster. He just needs a chance to prove it
He’ll get that chance this Sunday in Saskatoon, when he takes on Canadian MMA trailblazer Patrick Côté on the main card of UFC Fight Night 74.
In Côté, Burkman will face a fellow veteran who has had comparable success over the last few years. It’s the kind of matchup he probably should have gotten in his first fight back with the UFC, rather than a monster like Lombard. That is to say it’s a tough, but winnable fight. More than anything, however, this fight with Côté represents the ideal chance for Burkman to show why he deserves his current spot on the UFC roster; to silence any naysayers that have crawled out from the woodwork after his slips against Lombard and Kim, and remind the world of just the kind of fighter he is.
Of course, Burkman could lose to Côté. The French Canadian recently dispatched another veteran on a second UFC run in Joe Riggs and Burkman could certainly face the same fate. A more likely outcome, however—as the betting odds suggest—is that the one-time WSOF title challenger steps onto the canvas, puts on a show for the fans in beautiful Saskatoon, and justifies his spot in the historically-stacked UFC welterweight division in the process.
At 34, and with nearly 15 years of MMA mileage on his body, Burkman’s contending for a UFC title is certainly a long shot. Even his securing a spot in the top-10 seems unlikely. With a strong performance over Côté this weekend in Saskatoon, however, we can expect the welterweight veteran to regain his footing, and from there, put on some awesome fights amongst the world’s best until he eventually decides to hang ‘em up. Yes, despite the shaky start of his return to the organization, he is a UFC-calibre fighter through-and-through, and this weekend, bet on him proving that in a big way.
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