PRO MMA exclusive interview: Mikey Burnett – “I will compete again”

Mikey Burnett knows about hard times. He has persevered through various personal issues, including a bitter divorce, and has been entrenched in a lawsuit for the past couple of years in relation to his appearance on season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback.

Despite the tough times and setbacks, Mikey Burnett is still standing, and is looking to come back yet again from his latest adversity, a severe neck injury that threatens his very livelihood.

It’s hard to believe he has been a part of the sport for so long, appearing way back at UFC 16, and then battling Pat Miletich at UFC Ultimate Brazil back in 1998 for the UFC’s Lightweight Title, which was later changed to the Welterweight division as we know it today.

That fight has been called controversial by many and is still discussed today, with many fans feeling Burnett should have been awarded the victory over Miletich.

He later appeared on the fourth installment of “The Ultimate Fighter”, which highlighted veteran fighters looking to make a comeback and re-establish their UFC careers.

Despite Mikey’s injury and fallout from his appearance on the show, Burnett looks back on his time on the show as a positive experience, and still considers multiple fighters from that show to be true friends that have stuck with him through both thick and thin.

Mikey took some time out from his training and coaching at the Oklahoma Fight Club to talk with us here at PRO MMA (, to update us on the latest information surrounding his injury, his thoughts on Dana’s “vlog’s”, the UFC itself, and even his opinion about “Mayhem’s” Bully Beatdown series on MTV:

PRO MMA: A lot of MMA fans remember your appearance on “The Ultimate Fighter season 4”, and remember the fall out from that show. I know you are involved in some legal issues from your appearance on “The Ultimate Fighter”, how much are you allowed to speak on this situation at the present time?
Mikey Burnett: The show, like I said, it’s not something I can discuss in great detail. I went onto the show injury free, and I had a doctor’s appointment… running into the wall I don’t think had anything to do with it, seeing how I already had a doctor’s appointment, like I said I can’t really get into great detail. The house was a pretty crazy deal. I don’t think a lot of people understand how big of a deal this is, a lot of people are like, “fuck him he doesn’t deserve to have his neck fixed.” I’m like OK, you have to have the exact same thing if Anderson Silva breaks his neck next week on the show. You know, it has to be straight across the board in every instance, I mean, anybody that has ever stood up for their rights or for the rights of people are going to be persecuted at first. I don’t mind being persecuted, I’ve been persecuted my whole life, so it doesn’t bother me. People have to look at it like, if you believe in the death penalty, you believe in the death penalty straight across the board, it’s not just pick and choose based on crimes. If you don’t believe in the death penalty, it’s got to be straight across the board, it’s got to be a straight line, it can’t be like, “I like BJ Penn so if he broke his neck, we’d fix it, but your done, so fuck you.”

PRO MMA: So besides all of the controversy, overall it was a good experience on the show right?
Mikey Burnett: The reality show was great, I met an awesome group of guys. I talked to Chris Lytle last night. He’s gone out of his way to help me a few times. Really the show for me wasn’t about coming back, I was trying to make a stand in life, I was going through a bad divorce, where I had been called a lot of bad things. I was going through the court system, with an arm full of tattoos, and being judged, and I was like, “Hey you guys aren’t pushing me around no more, I’m a good parent, and I’m going to go to Vegas for 6 weeks, you can’t ruin my life no more.” It worked out, I have my kids like 50-60% of the time, and me and my ex don’t get along so bad anymore, I mean, obviously we’re not friends, but it’s one of those deals that everybody needed to go through. I definitely needed to go out there and go through the experience. It was one of the biggest life changing experiences of my life. I learned a lot about myself, and I learned a lot about other people, and more importantly, my ground game has gotten tremendously better since then. I wrestle with a gi quite a bit, because of Matt Serra, and Din Thomas, and the guys talking to me about the neck injury, so it’s been positive you know? You can make any instance in life a positive, if you really want to.

PRO MMA: I’ve been there with the divorce thing, so I feel you on that one…
Mikey Burnett: You know that’s a terrible thing. The kid’s are used, the spouse and ex-spouse are used, nobody really wins with it as far as financial. I mean the lawyers win financially, nobody else really wins. The men that go through it, every time I get a chance to meet a guy that’s in a divorce, I’m trying to help. It’s a rough, rough period of life… a stretch of road to go alone. I’ve got a few friends that I’ve met during my divorce and they are lifelong friends now. One of them had been divorced, and kind of showed me the way, and told me that this is the way it’s going to be, this is what’s going to get done to you… I try to give that to other people.

PRO MMA: It’s easy to see who your true friends really are when shit starts going bad.
Mikey Burnett: It’s kind of scary isn’t it? Because there are not a lot of people there. I was surprised at how many people will kick you when you are down. It was a good wake up call. It just showed me what is important in life. My parents, my dad was still around at that time, and was there for me. My mother is still always there for me, it’s flipping a little bit, where I have to be there for her more, she’s getting older. It’s a wake up call. People live in real delusional worlds where they think they know what’s going on, and most of the time, reality is pretty far off from what is going on in their minds.

PRO MMA: I think some MMA fans forget that sometimes fighters have some personal issues that may affect their performances. Some people expect you guys to be at the top of your game every time, regardless of what is going on outside of the ring or cage.
Mikey Burnett: The top game is short lived. I can still fight, and probably beat like 90% of the guys out there, I can’t beat the top 10% of the guys anymore. It’s a real short life span for how long you can be at that peak level you know? I have a young kid that just started fighting, and he fought and he did real good, and everybody keeps asking him “when are you fighting again?” I was talking to him and telling him expectations change, and it’s like they expect you to go in there and look at the guy and the guy falls down dead, and they tell you, “You’re the baddest man on the planet.” I’m just like, “Hey I get up and I’m a human being just like everybody else, and I have these goals I want to attain.”

PRO MMA: With that being said, can we expect to see you in action again?
Mikey Burnett: My biggest goal lately, is just to compete again. Whether that be fighting or grappling, will be totally based on my lawsuit with my neck. I can’t get licensed anywhere with my neck the way that it is. I have to wait for everything to finish before I can make any decisions. If it ends up being a deal where they fuck me over, and I’m stuck with a broke neck the rest of my life, I’m going to handle that… I went through a phase where I hated the sport because of the way it has not always been fair to me, but it’s a sport I love. I’m just not going to share it with people that use it to manipulate money or manipulate people. I just don’t share it with those types of people anymore. I share it with a real strong group of guys that I train right now. They bicker, you know, but that’s with any gym, and some of them don’t get along so well, but they all come in with a passion for wrestling or boxing. That’s first and foremost, the passion, they don’t talk to me about making money off of it, because I don’t think there is a lot of money to be made off it. If I have to go get a job next week, I’m still going to wrestle everyday for the rest of my life.

PRO MMA: As far as the money, with MMA growing, it seems like more and more companies and sponsors will get involved just for the $, and not for the sport itself you know?
Mikey Burnett: That’s how most of them are, they don’t really care, it’s a lifestyle for them. For me, you know, I turned 36 last week, my body fat is still below 8%, probably 7 something, I still lift weights 3 or 4 days a week, do yoga 3 or 4 days a week, and I still wrestle 6 days a week. I don’t have to, I could just go in there and teach, and not grapple at all, but I feel like I’m doing my students a disservice if I don’t get in there and work with them. I try not to hold it against them, what’s the old saying, “Only God can judge me?” That’s not the case, because you walk through life everyday and get judged. Everybody does. Not only God can judge you, you know? God’s not down here paying my mortgage this month, I have to pay it, and the lady at the bank doesn’t give a damn if I’m Christian or not. She wants the mortgage.

PRO MMA: So how is your neck right now, is it fully healed or are there still major issues with it?
Mikey Burnett: I’m not in a good spot with my injury, it’s bad. It’s progressively getting worse and it’s been 3 years. Most of the doctors I’ve seen said I shouldn’t even be capable to lift weights or wrestle you know, and that I have a high pain tolerance that’s ridiculous. My arms go to sleep on me every night. I haven’t had an MRI in two years now, and I don’t know… The doctor I have now is kind of a new age doctor, which I struggle with some of his stuff, but he’s a doctor and I’m not. He’s like, “Keep these pain medicines, keep teaching, keep working out, and don’t stop doing what you’re doing. We’re going to get your neck fixed sooner or later, but if you stop, you’re going to fall apart. You have a lot of muscles holding things together right now, and if you stop using them, they are going to get smaller and you are going to start falling apart.” I get up everyday, and depending on the day, I eat some pain medication, I go lift, or do yoga. Today I had a noon class, and did some gi wrestling with some guys, and then I’m back tonight with a no-gi class and a boxing class. I don’t spar anymore, and most of the guys that wrestle with me, won’t grab my neck and they are real careful about grabbing my collar. Don’t get me wrong you have guys that have things they want to work on, so I have to remind them to be careful. I can take some pressure on it, but if I get caught in a triangle choke or something I’m like fuck it, you know, I’m done. I get sharp pains down the side of my neck, you know so… Like I said most of the guys that I have are good people, so they understand they are not getting a UFC belt by beating me, and that they can learn a bunch from working out with me and trying to figure out different ways to try to get their shot.

PRO MMA: Hopefully you have a full recovery from your injury, and are able to compete again. So it’s possible that you may compete in other areas of fighting such as grappling right?
Mikey Burnett: One way or another like I said, my lawyer, I talked to him the other day, and he said my lawsuit will be done this year and I’ll either have my day in court, or the insurance will hook me up with some surgery or something. I’m planning on hopefully by the end of the year, or by early next year, either A: fighting, or B: doing some grappling tournaments. I want to fight again, I got some good fighters, but I would totally NOT do anything in the states again, it would be DREAM or somewhere like that. I got some good fighters that I’m trying to move, and they got a lot of talent, but they need an open door. If I can go fight again, and open some doors for them, to get into Japan or whatever, then that’s what I’ll do.

PRO MMA: You mentioned DREAM, what other organizations could be a possibility for you?
Mikey Burnett: It would never be in the states. Let me rephrase that, it would never be in certain organizations. I don’t have hard feelings, but I’ve paid my dues in some places, and just never got anything out of it. That’s fine, but I’m not going to continue to pay dues and be disrespected. It’s not personal, but I have more respect for my self than that. It’s like going back to an ex-wife, you just don’t do that shit. It is what it is, you just don’t go back to bad situations. I don’t have any future plans with Dana, and I’m sure he don’t have any plans for me so. I don’t like the way some of the ways he handles business. The guy makes a video blog, people are really interesting in listening to the guy, and he gets on there and talks like he should be pumping gas outside of Philly. He doesn’t talk like a CEO of a big corporation. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I expect people to take pride in who they are. You don’t see Don King making a reality show about himself, and talking down about fighters. It’s a joke almost, you know, it kind of makes himself look like a clown.

PRO MMA: So have you had a chance to see Bully Beatdown on MTV? Fans and fighters I’ve talked to have mixed reactions about it.
Mikey Burnett: Yeah I have! It’s really not my style, but whatever. I think it’s good for a viewing audience. Obviously people are into it, and everybody would like to go back and have the guy that bullied them have the shit kicked out of them. I saw the show, and I think “Mayhem” did a pretty good job. I don’t personally know “Mayhem”, and it’s really not my style of show that I’d really watch. It’s for a certain age group, it’s on MTV, so it’s pretty cool. You have a lot of young guys that are interested, and may be like “I can learn MMA and quit getting bullied.” It’s a good concept, I’ll put it that way.

PRO MMA: That’s cool, I happen to like it myself. Let’s talk about your gym a little bit. Who are some of your up and coming guys that you train?
Mikey Burnett: I got two or three guys, I got a kid named John Carson, that was training with me a long time ago and now he’s back with me. His jiu jitsu is gotten really good, and we’ve got him coming up on 3 fights here in the next 6 weeks, trying to get his career moving. I have a kid named Daniel Roberts, he’s an older kid, not as old as me, but I coached him in high school wrestling, he’s won 2 or 3 NAGA events this year and his fight record is 8-0. He’s a tough kid, and he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with when we get his stand up going correct, because his grappling is awesome. I got my kid’s instructor Todd Ryan, he kind of does it extracurricular, but he’s an awesome instructor. I think all three of those guys, given the opportunity or chance would do well. I tell them you got 15 minutes to win people over, that’s what your going to get, a 15 minute fight. You may only get one chance, so when it happens be ready. We’ll see, I think all three will get a chance, but they have to be ready when the door opens. That’s the biggest thing, most people think you’re ready all the time, but you’re not, it’s got to be good timing, you gotta get a little bit lucky. The door may only open once or maybe twice, and you’ve got to be ready to capitalize when it does.

PRO MMA: That’s true, you may only get one chance. We’ve seen organizations such as the UFC release a log of guys in the past few months.
Mikey Burnett: That’s just a numbers game, their whole deal is just a numbers game. They told he 10 years ago, “We’ve got another guy that looks just like you Mikey, and the audience doesn’t know any different.” And they are right somewhat, it doesn’t matter, sit down with someone that don’t know anything about grappling and watch MMA, and they don’t know what the hell those guys are doing on the ground. It’s just a persona they sell now, and you see so many guys, and everybody’s a fighter now. EVERYBODY is a fighter now, it takes some of the mystique away.

PRO MMA: That’s true, everybody that throws on a fight tee, and trains part time seems to be a fighter now days… Thanks for spending some time with us at PRO MMA ( Are there any sponsors you’d like to thank, or any shout-outs you’d like to send out?
Mikey Burnett: I’d like to send a shout out to all my homeys. There’s not that many, but there are some people like Chris Lytle that has always been good to me, Matt Serra, Din Thomas, some of these guys I did the show with have always been more than gracious to help me out. The last two years have been kind of a crazy run for me, so all those guys that did the show with me, all the old school Lion’s Den guys, and the new school Lion’s Den up in Connecticut and Arizona, keep it real!

By Denny Hodge

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