Everyone who saw last Friday night's World Series of Fighting 3 has an opinion on the finish of the main event, but no one has a clearer understanding of exactly what went on in the final moments of the fight than the winner, Josh Burkman.
And as far as he's concerned, referee Steve Mazzagatti, who did not see Burkman's opponent Jon Fitch go limp, may be facing a little too much venom for his inaction.
Discussing the finish and its aftermath on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, Burkman didn't totally absolve Mazzagatti of any blame, but indicated that he wasn't guilty of gross incompetence in this case, which saw Burkman stop the fight himself after choking Fitch unconscious.
"I think I probably surprised Mazzagatti," he said. "I knew when I went to the ground that I had the choke. And I knew it was really tight. So when we went down to the ground, I knew Fitch went out. I tightened it real fast just to make sure. I've got a lot of respect for Jon Fitch and just who he is. I didn't feel like there was any need in holding that choke or trying to prove anything else. I knew the fight was over. Mazzagatti, I think is getting harsh criticism. He probably could’ve been in a little bit better position, but I think as soon as Jon Fitch went out, I let go of it. Mazzagatti could have been in a better position probably, but at the same time, I think as soon as Fitch went out, I let go of it, so there wasn’t a big opportunity to jump in there and stop the fight anyway."
Asked more specifically about UFC president Dana White's condemnation of Mazzagatti's call, Burkman reiterated his point.
"I think it’s a little harsh," he said. "I think that part of it is justified. I think he could have been down there in a better position, but I think Mazzagatti maybe felt the flow of the energy in the fight. He knew I was going to take care of it, lay him down nicely and get out of the way."
The conclusion, which took all of 41 seconds, was at least was decisive, landing the welterweight his third straight WSOF win and the eighth victory in his last nine bouts.
While those victories -- including back-to-back finishes over former UFC fighters Fitch and Aaron Simpson -- have led some to speculate about a possible UFC return for Burkman, he cut off any momentum by revealing he'd just signed a new four-fight deal with WSOF prior to the Fitch fight.
Though he acknowledged that he originally aimed for a UFC return and that he'd kept in touch with VP of talent relations Joe Silva, he said that he's very happy with WSOF. He believes his streak will land him in a title bout, the first likely to be contested in the promotion.
"When World Series of Fighting came up, it just felt like the right place for me to be," he said. "I was joking around the other day, and said. 'I want to be the Dr. J [basketball legend Julius Erving] of MMA.' And somebody goes, if you want to be the Dr. J of MMA, you've got to slam dunk. I've been really happy with this organization. They’ve gotten behind me and I've been able to come back up through them. They have my loyalty right now. I have three fights left with them and I'm not planning on trying to get out of my contract or any of that. I'm very happy where I'm at."
Erving became a star in the ABA, a rival to the longstanding NBA, helping to bring the upstart league attention before the two leagues later merged.
Burkman may have to wait a bit before continuing towards his goal, as he re-aggravated an existing hand injury during his win, and said it could keep him out about six weeks, but would not know for sure until visiting an orthopedist. It's his hope to avoid surgery so he can be back quickly.
It's all so he can continue the momentum that seemingly came out of nowhere. Burkman admitted some laziness in his earlier days as a young fighter trying to cut corners while living what he perceived to be the fast lifestyle of a professional athlete. As it turned out, parting ways with the UFC was the wake-up call he needed to turn his career around. First he addressed his physical issues by rehabbing an old back injury, then he says he underwent a spiritual transformation, and finally, he got married and started a family.
All of that has combined to make the 32-year-old one of the top comeback stories in MMA right now. He expects that he has about four years left in his career before he steps away to pursue other interests. Until then, it's about seizing every day and ensuring he gets the best out of himself.
"The main thing I want to be able to do is, I really want in these last few years of my career, to put everything I have into it, and be as dedicated and focused as I can, so when I’m done I can say, 'That’s as good as I could have been. I did my very best and that's as good as I could have been,'" he said. "I can walk away from competition in mixed martial arts and be happy with my career. If I would have had to do that after UFC or any point in my career before this I would have known that I didn’t give everything that I had. Now I'm doing that, and it's bringing out the best in me, and I think that will help take me in the right direction for the next couple of years."