Kamaru Usman makes his third defence of the UFC welterweight title on February 14 when he finally faces Gilbert Burns in a bout that was originally scheduled twice last year. Will it be another successful outing for ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ or can Burns dethrone the champion at UFC 258?
I cannot help but think that Burns may have been thrust into this position too soon. The 34-year-old Brazilian is undoubtedly a very talented fighter and he is on a tear right now thanks to a six-fight win streak that includes a first-round stoppage of Demian Maia and a five-round domination of former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. However, those notable successes have come against fighters who are past their peak and in Usman he is facing a man who is in his prime right now. The 33-year-old ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ goes into this fight having silenced Colby Covington in brutal fashion in his first defence before stifling and dominating Jorge Masvidal for four rounds to extend his win streak to 16 fights.
Usman is a big, strong welterweight who knows how to use his physical attributes to their fullest. He has the takedown skills to get this to the mat if he chooses and despite the threat of Burns’ BJJ, he has the strength and wrestling skills to smother the challenger and prevent him from staging many submission attempts. And in the stand-up, Usman boasts a sizeable reach advantage that will allow him to work at range and pick apart Burns, who is not renowned for his striking skills and threat despite his quickfire win over Maia. Everything points to Usman being able to control this contest and while Burns will pose a threat, it will be a threat that the champion extinguishes.
The question is will this go five rounds? I believe it will. While Usman did stop Covington that fight was just 50 seconds away from going the distance, and if you look over his last 11 fights the champion has gone to a decision on nine occasions. In fact, he has just three stoppage wins on his record since arriving in the UFC five-and-a-half years ago, so backing Usman to win with the aid of the judges’ scorecards is the way to go here.
Road To Kamaru Usman v Gilbert Burns
2019 could not have gone much better for Kamaru Usman as he completed his ascent to the top of the UFC welterweight division and then put an outspoken rival in his place. Usman had earned his crack at the 170lb title by embarking on a nine-fight win streak inside the Otcagon, and he did not need a second chance as he dominated Tyron Woodley for five rounds en route to a lopsided unanimous decision victory. It was impressive stuff from ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ and it set up a showdown with loudmouth interim champion Colby Covington last December.
The two men produced a thrilling contest that saw them go toe-to-toe for almost 25 minutes, but Usman ensured the judges would not be needed to determine the winner when he sent Covington crashing to the canvas and followed up with a flurry of strikes on the ground to force the referee to step in. Not only had he successfully defended his crown against the number one contender, Usman had also managed to break the jaw of a man many fight fans wish would just shut up for once.
He had now put together two of the biggest wins of his career to cement his place atop the welterweight division, and Gilbert Burns was the next man paired up with Usman just weeks after the Brazilian had dominated former champion Tyron Woodley in a five-round affair at the UFC APEX.
Burns was considered one of the fastest rising stars in the 170lb division. ‘Durinho’ made the move back to welterweight after an underwhelming run at lightweight, and he had been on a tear since then, besting Alexey Kunchenko over three rounds before claiming his first notable scalp by beating Gunnar Nelson via decision a month later. He then topped that victory as he stopped long-time welterweight and middleweight contender Demian Maia in only 154 seconds on the Brazilian’s home soil, and the big-name scalps kept coming when he got the better of ex-title-holder Woodley to cement his status as a major player in the division.
However, his momentum stalled when he was forced out of the title fight with Usman and when the UFC tried to rescheduled the fight for October 2020 it again had to be scrapped after the champion claimed he needed more time to prepare due to injury. So will this fight take place at the third time of asking? Burns is certainly hoping so, but can he keep this red-hot run going to claim the biggest victory of his professional mixed martial arts career so far, or will Usman fend off the Brazilian’s challenge to cement his status as the UFC’s premier fighter in the welterweight division?
Kamaru Usman v Gilbert Burns Tips: Expert Predictions
Former welterweight Title contender Stephen Thompson talking to the ‘Weighing In Podcast’: “I think this is going to be Kamaru Usman’s toughest fight, for sure. This guy [Burns] has got the ground [game], he’s a high-level jiu-jitsu practitioner, he’s got good striking — he’s been knocking dudes out. So, I think he’s the better well-rounded fighter he’s faced, even over Colby Covington. But Usman, on top of that, he’s an intelligent fighter. He’s got pressure and cardio for days. He’s got a gas tank like no other and I do believe he can outwrestle Burns. I think he could wrestle him and neutralize his jiu-jitsu. His top game is really, really good, especially up against the fence. If he can get him pinned up against the fence where he’s able to control his opponent’s hips, I think he’s got it. But the thing is getting in there. Burns’ striking is fast. That dude is explosive. He may not have the reach Kamaru does, but he’s explosive and you saw it against Tyron Woodley. He knocked him down, something I wasn’t able to do and I think I’m pretty fast. I think Kamaru Usman can do it… he’s a great champ. I think he holds the title very well. So, I’m going for Usman.”
Kamaru Usman v Gilbert Burns Tips: Fighter Predictions
Kamaru Usman talking to ESPN: “We know how it’s going to go. Of course, he’s gotten a lot better. You can’t take that from him. I would be playing myself if I said that he hasn’t improved over the years. And confidence is a hell of a drug, too. So he’s confident. He feels confident in the improvements that he’s made. But you made certain improvements in the last two years. I’ve been doing this. I’ve been doing the same thing. I showed you the game. You watched me do it. So you’re like, ‘OK, I bought in a couple years ago. I need to do this to improve.’ But I’ve been doing that consistently for years and years and years and years. So we both know what’s going to happen.”
Gilbert Burns talking to AG Fight: “I know many of his strong suits and weaknesses, as he knows mine, so I’ve been trying to close those gaps. I’ve been training a lot of wrestling and clinching, which are the things he is good at. Now the focus is on me. I’ve been working hard on my jiu-jitsu, all kinds of submissions – head, feet, arms, neck. I’ve been trying to get the finish from every possible angle and I think my jiu-jitsu will make the difference in the fight.”