A year ago, Kevin Burns was just a guy with a job at Wells Fargo and a dream of making it big in the UFC. Now he's a full-time UFC fighter, but he says he still has a lot more to do before he's accomplished all his goals.
In an interview with FanHouse, Burns talked about how he got into the UFC, his shocking upset of Roan Carneiro in his UFC debut, his back-to-back fights with Anthony Johnson and his upcoming fight against Chris Lytle Saturday night on Spike. The full interview is below.
Michael David Smith: I think you have one of the most interesting stories of how you got your start in the UFC. For people who haven't heard it, could you explain it?
Kevin Burns: It was just a year ago. I had been competing in MMA and trying to get to the UFC level for some time, and having my manager call (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva, and we felt like we were getting pretty close. And then I got a call from Joe Silva on Memorial Day, and he said, "You have a shot to fight in the UFC." I said, "Great."
Then he said, "Do you have a passport?" And I said yes I do, and I'll fight anybody, anywhere, any time. And he said, "Well, I'm glad you said 'anywhere, any time,' because it's in London next weekend."
So I took all the physical exams, the MRIs, they cleared me to fight, and I hopped on a plane with my one cornerman, and off I went. I felt like I had the opportunity to shock the world against Roan Carneiro at UFC 85, and I think that's what I did.
"Shock" is a good word for it. Carneiro is a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt who's been fighting professionally for several years, and you were a fairly inexperienced fighter and a huge underdog. Are you shocked that you were able to submit him?
I wouldn't say that. I felt pretty confident in my ground skills. He was certainly more accomplished than me in Brazilian jiu jitsu, but using your jiu jitsu in MMA is very different from sport jiu jitsu, and I really felt that from an MMA standpoint, if I went in there and followed my game plan I could beat him.
So a year ago, right up until UFC 85, did you have a day job?
Yes, I was in commercial leasing for Wells Fargo. I was a leasing manager; I managed a sales team. I actually still do some work for them on a part-time basis, training sales people for Wells Fargo. It's been good for me to keep a professional job. It helps me have some balance.
But beating Carneiro and getting that $50,000 Submission of the Night bonus made it financially possible for you to go to your boss at Wells Fargo and say, "I want to fight full-time now and make my work here part time"?
Absolutely. That bonus was great for my family, it allowed us to pay some things off, and it allowed me to put my focus into my training.
The way the UFC pays younger guys like you is a lower base salary but an opportunity to get a big bonus with the Fight of the Night, the Knockout of the Night or the Submission of the Night. Do you like that pay structure?
I do. I think it instills a level of hunger in the fighters to go out and lay it on the line.
After you won at UFC 85, they gave you another fight pretty quickly, against Anthony Johnson, and then you fought Johnson again a second time. Both of those fights were live on Spike, and so is your next one on Saturday night. Did getting on live TV help you make some extra money in sponsorships?
Yes. It's good to have guaranteed TV time. The businesses that advertise with the UFC want the maximum exposure, so if you can get on the main card, it's tremendous to be able to tell your sponsors that you're going to be seen by millions of people.
Your first fight with Anthony Johnson was controversial, you won by TKO but he felt that it either should have been a no contest or you should have been disqualified because you poked him in the eye.
That's right, and I didn't want that fight to end the way it did either. That's why I requested a rematch.
So you wanted to fight him the second time?
But then that second fight ended pretty badly for you, with Anthony knocking you cold with a head kick.
In a lot of ways that was good for me. It taught me that my footwork and my striking weren't as good as they should be. It taught me that I needed better instruction. It forced me to go to Vegas and spend some time training with Ken Hahn at Striking Unlimited, and I don't think I would have taken my game to that level without that loss.
The way Anthony knocked you out looked a little scary. Was it a scary experience? And is it uncomfortable for you to watch that fight now?
Well, that's the risk we all take. I got knocked out, but I didn't have any lasting injuries, and at some point that has to happen. But, like I said, it ended up being good for me because I decided to get better training, better instruction and learn better footwork.
Was it scary for your family? Your wife and mom?
I'm sure my wife was scared. She was there. And my mom was worried, but I called her right away and said, "Hey, mom, I'm fine." And I've been knocked out playing football before, too, so maybe my mom is used to it by now.
That was six months ago, and now you're getting ready to get back into the Octagon for the first time since then, against Chris Lytle on Saturday night at The Ultimate Fighter Finale. What do you think of Lytle as an opponent?
Chris Lytle is a tough competitor. He's got a cinderblock for a jaw and he's fought a lot of the best guys in our weight class. It really fires me up to get to fight someone of his caliber. And although I've never met him, he seems like a really nice guy, and I like competing against good people. This is the best sport in the world and it's fun to be in there with great opponents like Chris.
It's interesting that you like Chris as a person. I've talked to a lot of guys in MMA who say they don't feel any need to get motivated with personal animosity, that they like their opponents as people and don't feel any anger in a fight.
That's absolutely how I feel. When I first got into this sport my mom thought that meant I was an angry person or something, and I had to say, "Mom, I'm not angry. It's just a sport I like to compete in, and it happens to be a combat sport." A lot of people think if you're in a fight with someone you must hate him, but that's not the case at all. It's purely a sport, and after I compete with someone I'd be happy to go out and have a beer with him.
What are your long-term goals in the sport? What do you hope to accomplish?
Well, I'd be lying if I said I don't want a title shot. That's where I want to get. I had a minor setback when I lost to Anthony Johnson, but I want to come back, win impressively against Chris and get myself into a place where I could earn a title shot. If you're in the sport without high goals, you're doing it for the wrong reason.