Just last year, Steve Carl was traveling the regional circuit in the midwest, trying to make ends meet while fighting for whichever promotion that dialed his number. After Carl put together a string of four wins from December 2011 through August 2012, it was the World Series of Fighting that gave him a call. Now on a six-fight winning streak after picking up victories in his first two appearances inside the WSOF cage, the 28-year-old has earned a title shot for the promotion’s inaugural welterweight belt.

Carl will be one half of the WSOF 6 main event this Saturday, Oct. 26, from the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla. This will be Carl’s second appearance in front of a national audience on NBC Sports Network, and he is receiving a considerable amount of attention through commercials for the event, which have been airing for weeks.

Steve Carl (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Even with the added exposure, the life of the small-town Iowa native hasn’t changed.

“I’m still the same guy and do the same things everyday,” Carl told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “When I come into these fights, I get to live a different life for a couple of days. But at the end of the day, I go home and I’m still the same small-town guy I’ve always been. I get to go home and hear all the stories from my family and friends about what they did on fight night and how excited they were. But after a couple weeks, all of that is aside. Everything is back to normal.”

Jitters are often discussed in martial arts, especially for fighters who are in career-defining bouts. With 23 professional fights under his belt, Carl isn’t one to let things get to him mentally.

“Sometimes it feels like people are trying to put pressure on you. Other times, it’s just kind of an annoyance,” he admitted. “I just wanna go in there and do my job. You try not to make it any bigger than it really is in your head. Everybody is like, ‘Oh, you’re fighting for a world title. You’re fighting one of the top-10 ranked fighters in the world. You’re in the main event for the first-ever belt. How about all this pressure?’ And I’m thinking, like, what pressure? It’s just a fight.”

Carl has been in pressure situations before. Just look back to his tenure under the Bellator banner.

In 2010 and 2011, Carl fell against Dan Hornbuckle, submitted Tyler Stinson, and then was on the losing end of a unanimous decision to current Bellator welterweight tournament champion Douglas Lima. Following his loss to Lima, Carl was put in a painful and difficult situation.

“When I cut away from Bellator, it was due to inactivity,” Carl stated. “I actually asked if they could release me, because I went 13 months without fighting. Then I had my hiccup with Douglas Lima and went another seven months after a fight got scratched. At that point, I was like, ‘Why am I still doing this? Can you guys let me go?’ I needed to go out and refine myself, and I went out and did that.”

Carl says it is great being a part of the WSOF roster now. He is really enjoying the moment. Considering Carl has been with both WSOF and Bellator, how does he feel they compare?

“I would definitely say World Series of Fighting and Bellator are neck and neck. You can’t really compare the two because the formats are completely different,” he explained. “Bellator has over 100 events now, but with the tournament format, there’s a fight every single week. World Series is bringing top-ranked talent and they’re having five or six shows a year, so they can make it a professional and personal show, whereas Bellator is slapping together a show every single week. You can’t give that individual attention to each fighter. That’s where the entire experience and atmosphere kind of lacks.

“At World Series, it’s a great atmosphere, and I’m glad I’m here.”

From the looks of things, Carl made the right decision for his career to move forward. After wins over Ramico Blackmon and Tyson Steele, Carl has earned his spot against former UFC competitor Josh Burkman for the 170-pound crown.

During his four-year stint with the UFC, Burkman compiled a record of 5-5, with his final three fights inside the Octagon resulting in losses. Yet, after a 5-1 mark outside the promotion, Burkman was one of the first to be signed by World Series of Fighting to fight on its first card. After defeating Gerald Harris, Burkman earned a TKO over Aaron Simpson at WSOF 2 to set himself up with a rematch against former UFC welterweight title challenger Jon Fitch at the promotion’s third show. Burkman went on to avenge his prior loss to Fitch by stunning Fitch just 41 seconds into the fight with a guillotine choke, setting up the Burkman-Carl title bout.

One look at Carl’s record and it’s clear he is not one to wait on his opponent. Fifteen of his 20 victories came by way of submission, including his most recent six all in the first round. He is planning on bringing the fight to Burkman while also staying composed.

Carl (top) chokes out his opponent (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“Josh is calm inside that cage. I like to apply a lot of pressure,” Carl said. “I like to stay in the guy’s face and not get out of it. When I attack, I don’t really wanna stop until the ref tells me to. When you watch Burkman, he doesn’t do a whole lot of attacking. He waits for you to attack, and that’s where he’s most dangerous. I guess not over-thinking that is probably going to be my biggest challenge with fighting Josh Burkman. I just need to attack and be ready to counter.”

Carl was on the same card as Burkman when both earned wins in June. Carl said he had a feeling Burkman would defeat Fitch due to the nerves Fitch would bring to the cage in his first fight after departing the UFC and how hot Burkman had been coming into that fight. In fact, Carl was pulling for Burkman to get the win.

“We were sponsored by the same sponsor, and right after my fight, I was talking with them. They were congratulating me, and I was watching the Fitch [fight] with them,” he said. “When Josh won, we were all celebrating together. It was kind of a weird feeling. It went from celebration and then to realization that I have to fight this guy now.”

Carl has only one thing on his mind, and it’s not the title belt that will be sitting cageside. It’s Josh Burkman.

Carl says he has received encouraging messages telling him to bring the title back to his home state of Iowa, but he is only focused on his opponent at this point. When the fight is over and his hand is raised, then the realization of becoming a champion will have a chance to sink in. For now, it’s all about approaching the contest in the correct way without looking ahead to the future.

“I just have to go in there, be calm and be the fighter that I’ve been trained to be for the last eight years of my life. I just have to go in there and do my thing.”

Steve would like to thank VA Mortgage Leader, Onnit, Lecheck Nutrition, Dr. Bowers Chiropractic, all of his training partners at Hard Drive MMA in Cedar Rapids, his family, friends, fans and all the people who will be at the show this weekend. He would also like to remind people that military, police and firefighters can come and show an ID to get in for free with one other companion. Follow Carl on Twitter: @Steve_Carl

Photo: Steve Carl (white trunks) vs. Tyson Steele (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Corey Adams
Staff Writer

Corey Adams didn't grow up watching mixed martial arts, considering the UFC was just getting started the year he was born, but in his teenage years, witnessed the action and has fallen in love with the sport. Corey was the first to join The MMA Corner staff -- other than founder Josh Davis -- and has been writing for the site ever since. Corey attends Austin Peay State University, where he majors in Communications with a focus on journalism. When he's not covering MMA, Corey is still writing on many sports with both local and campus newspapers. His favorite sports teams are the Atlanta Braves and Denver Broncos. Follow him on Twitter at the link below.