No outside observer could have known something was wrong. Josh Burkman was set to fight the tough Tyler Stinson March 29 in Las Vegas, Nevada on the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) 9 card and hoped to get back on the winning track after losing to Steve Carl last Octobepromotion. The WSOF matchmaker got involved, mean things were said and, for some reason, Vinny Magalhaes even got into the scrap.
It was ugly, and then it was over. Burkman announced soon after the twitter spat that he was staying with WSOF and that things were now all good.
Fans were left wondering what in the heck had just happened. Josh Burkman sat down with Cagewriter this week to explain his side of what, exactly, the fuss was all about between he and WSOF.
I can't work on going anywhere else unless #WSOF releases me. If so, we will start fresh somewhere else...
— Joshua Burkman (@JoshBurkman) April 3, 2014
It’s Monday morning in Utah and “The People’s Warrior” is more thoughtful and measured than the terse, angry-sounding version we got from him on Twitter. 140 character-maximum mediums of mass communication are not great for conveying nuance or detail, it turns out.
Burkman, who has just gotten back into the gym recently to begin the slow process of preparing for his next fight – whoever it ends up being against - , wants to explain his account more fully.
“It’s easy for things to get overlooked,” he begins.
“WSOF is a new and fast-growing organization. They’ve got a lot of fighters and a lot of contracts and it’s possible that they don’t know what each one says, you know?”
At saying that, Burkman chuckles. A few weeks ago, however, the situation was not comical to him in the slightest.
“I’ve got a clause that keeps me active, meaning they have to give me a certain amount of fights in a certain period of time. Going into the [WSOF 9] card, we were coming right up on that deadline where they owed me another fight. I told [WSOF matchmaker] Ali [Abdelaziz] that I wanted to fight on the card, but he said the card was filling up and at budget.
“I understood and I’m sure he was right, but I needed another fight. I wanted to fight again after my last one to prove that I had an off night. So, I reminded him that it was in my contract that they needed to get me on this card.
“So, they put me on the card against Stinson but sent me a bout agreement that paid me less than what my contract with them said I am supposed to get paid. So, right then, I made a plan to fight Stinson, hopefully win, and then ask for my release. I was pretty sure that with the way I’d been fighting in recent years, that if I could get another win, I’d be able to sign with other organizations.
“To be honest, I didn’t think they’d mind too much. Ali and Ray Sefo had been saying that they wouldn’t stand in the way of fighters leaving if they wanted to leave. I never thought that it would create this big stir”
The very night he beat Stinson, Burkman says that he told WSOF president Ray Sefo that he wanted to be released. The fighter says that he also spoke with WSOF consultant Shawn Lampman and asked for his release.
Burkman says that both men expressed understanding of his position but asked him to sleep on it for a day or two.
“Shawn Lampman told me, ‘Josh, we’ve put millions of dollars into marketing our top guys and you’re one of those guys. We’re giving you fights, we’re putting you out there,’” Burkman remembers.
“This is all before anything was posted on twitter.”
“When I next talked with Shawn, he said, ‘nope, we’re not releasing you.’ I got pissed off. I had to convince them to give me a fight they owed me, then they paid me less for it than they owed me and now I wasn’t even going to be able to carry out this plan and go elsewhere where I felt I could be appreciated. On twitter, someone posted something about me and [new WSOF welterweight champ Rousimar] Palhares fighting next for the WSOF welterweight title and I tweeted back that I didn’t want the belt. That’s how it all started. I was in a bad mood at the time and I didn’t want the belt. I wanted the money that was owed to me or I wanted to be released.”
Burkman explains how, far from having a prima donna attitude, he actually understands that fight promotions like WSOF have a lot to manage and that matchmaking and keeping contracts current can be difficult.
“Here’s the thing, WSOF has a lot of things on their plate and a lot of goals. And, they are good for the sport of MMA. I realize that I’m just a small part of that or any organization and so, I can be easily overlooked,” Burkman acknowledges.
“That’s why you have to fight for what you deserve and are owed. A lot of people are afraid of confrontation, even if they are right. So, they avoid it at all costs. I have no problem with confrontation if it’s to get something just or if I was wronged. I’ve always managed myself and I’ve always had that attitude.
“As MMA fighters, we are independent contractors. We are 1099, basically. We don’t get insurance, we don’t have 401k retirement plans to pay into. If you lose, you are overlooked. It’s understandable that promotions are like that.”
Burkman is trying hard to convey that he understands why promotions may look at fighters as pretty expendable. He doesn’t begrudge them for it, it’s just the reason why he is so assertive in advocating for himself.
“Fighters just have to stand up for themselves,” says the self-managed fighter. “I never have and never will complain about the type of work I’m in or the lack of security and stability that being a fighter offers. I don’t cry about that. I knew it going in and I love training and fighting so that’s why I do it.
“But, because fighters are basically on their own, you just have to make sure that you get what you are owed while you can and then be smart with your money so you can possibly have it for the future to open a gym or do something else.
“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been smart with my money, in that I have a gym. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s mine.”
So, Burkman felt wronged and then stymied by the WSOF. He took the matter to his attorney, who then wrote a letter and sent it to WSOF officials.
“I took it to my attorney and he drafted up a letter and sent it to the people at WSOF that needed to see it. Basically, I needed to be released or paid they money they owed me and then I would have no problem fighting the last fight on my contract for them,” Burkman recounts.
Once they received a letter from Burkman’s attorney, the fighter says that WSOF officials were happy to sit down and negotiate with him.
“Basically, we got into a room and worked it out,” he says.
Burkman got he wanted in back pay and WSOF got what it wanted in The Ultimate Fighter vet staying on their roster. “I honestly think that my relationship with WSOF is better for all this happening,” Burkman maintains.
“I also think that WSOF is better off for it happening. Like I said, they are a new promotion and growing fast. It is going to be hard to keep track of all the moving parts they have. I think they are good for the sport but I just needed to advocate for myself.
“As my own manager, I’ve always believed hard in fighting for myself but I’ve also always tried to see the promotion’s perspective. So, you just try to get what is possible and best for you as the fighter and the promotion.
“So, WSOF paid me what they owed me and I agreed to fight the last fight on my contract for them.”
Observers may assume that Burkman’s next fight will be for a title but he says that a lot of work is still needed for that to come to fruition.
“They want it to be a title fight, fine. I’m perfectly fine fighting for a title. But a lot of things have to fall in place for that to happen. If they do, great. If not, I’m happy to fight anybody,” Burkman says.
Burkman may be riding high now, but he explains that things could have very well ended up quite differently for him.
“Now, because I won my last fight with a good knockout, I’m in a decent place in my career. But, if I had lost, then people would think, ‘oh, he lost two in a row, he’s 33, 34 and his best days are behind him.’ Now, I look good and people might think my best fights are ahead of me,” he says.
“But it could have gone another way if I’d lost. Then, I’m sure the WSOF would have had no problem releasing me and I would have just made less to fight than I was supposed to."
MMA business stories may be a niche, but Burkman believes that his struggle really is a universal one. Standing up for yourself is a value and philosophy to the thirty three year-old father.
“This is a bad trend in MMA right now but also in the whole country and world. I wish we could still deals on a handshake, but we can’t,” he begins.
“If you’re wronged or owed something, you need to fight for it. Now a days, there’s lots going on that may make people uncomfortable. Maybe it’s at work, maybe it’s with laws being passed, maybe it’s with rights being taken away. People are uncomfortable with these things happening but they don’t want confrontation. “That’s why things are not going well in this country right now. If there’s an injustice happening, or an inequity, we all need to fight that. Keeping peace isn’t worth everything. Justice before mercy.”
With how hard he fights for himself as his own manager, we ask Burkman if he’s considered managing other fighters once he retires from competition. He says that anything is possible, but that he hasn’t seriously considered it yet.
“Things have worked out a very particular way for me because I’ve lots of help, whether it’s from attorneys or others,” he says.
Burkman does hope to get one important message out to fighters everywhere, though, through his example. “Contracts should be honored at all times,” he concludes.
“They shouldn’t be overlooked when a fighter loses and gone over with a fine-tooth comb when they win. Contracts need to be honored at all times.”
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