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Brazilian MMA fighters have captured belts in all Ultimate Fighting Championship men’s weight divisions except for welterweight, and one more will try to claim it this weekend.
In 27 years of UFC history, Brazilian fans have only seen four fellow countrymen vie for the 170-pound title, and none have been successful to claim it. Jorge Patino was the first to try at UFC 18 in 1999, but he was defeated by Pat Miletich. Seven months later, Andre Pederneiras attempted to claim the welterweight throne from Miletich at UFC 21, but he too was rebuffed. A decade later, Thiago Alves pursued the crown from Georges St. Pierre, but his quest for gold was denied atop UFC 100. Finally, Demian Maia faced Tyron Woodley and lost a one-sided decision at UFC 214 in 2017. This series does not include Rafael dos Anjos, who unsuccessfully fought for an interim strap against Colby Covington at UFC 225 in 2018.
The fifth undisputed welterweight title challenge from a Brazilian will take place on Feb. 13 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas atop UFC 258. Gilbert Burns will raise the hopes of Brazilians once again when he steps in the Octagon against champion Kamaru Usman in a long-awaited fight between former teammates. Even with statistics and odds favoring Usman, Brazilians are fairly optimistic.
Sherdog spoke with five Brazilian greats to garner their opinions on this key matchup, with three of those five having already faced Usman and all come up short. In addition to the aforementioned Maia, ex-heavyweight king Fabricio Werdum, one-time interim heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, former lightweight titleholder dos Anjos and current welterweight contender Warlley Alves all weighed in on the highly anticipated championship affair.
“I already fought both and see great qualities in them. I see the current champion as [the] favorite, but definitely ‘Durinho’ proved, after [he] beat me and Woodley, that he improved a lot and is hungry to have this belt. There is a curious component in that fight that they trained together for a long time. We don’t know how sparring [went], but for sure they know very well each other’s weak points, and that’s an important role in that fight.”
“I know Burns since TUF Brazil 1, when he was trainer of [Vitor Belfort]’s team and I was trainer of [Wanderlei Silva]’s team. Curiously, I really didn’t like these guys back then. I [thought] he was cocky and even nicknamed [him] “Old Lady Face” during the reality [show]. But as time passed and I was able to [get to] know him better, we started to [become] real close. If in the past I didn’t believe he could go too long, today I consider him one of the most well-rounded fighters in UFC. It’s really amazing the way this guy evolved, and I truly believe Burns will submit Usman on Saturday.”
“Burns reinvented himself in [the] welterweight division. [Sanford MMA head coach] Henri Hooft played an important role on that game changing, [by] adding great kickboxing tools. Burns also returned to jiu-jitsu competition, and also improved his ground [skills], connecting perfectly [his] striking and grappling in a way that a top striker like Tyron Woodley never felt comfortable with him. The same happened to Demian Maia, who is one of the best grapplers in MMA history. In that title fight, I see Usman having advantage on wrestling and physical aspects, while Burns is better on striking and also on the ground. The one who can keep the fight [in] his comfort zone will leave the Octagon with the UFC welterweight belt.”
“Me and Burns, we are school friends. I know his mindset, when this guy wants something, he gives his guts to get it and I truly believe that it will make the difference in that fight. [Usman] trained hard, reached the top and gained good money for achieving his goal. Now I see ‘Durinho’ more hungry [sic] and I truly believe he will win.”
“That fight can be decided either in a fast knockout from Burns, who has really heavy hands, or in a long tough five-round fight lead by [Usman]. And that’s what I believe it will happen. When I fought [Usman], what impressed me the most about him is the way he keeps his power from the beginning till the end. He is not a really strong guy like Ronaldo Souza, for example, but what [is most impressive] about him is his athleticism, no matter if grappling in the cage or throwing a great volume of punches. I believe Usman will play [a] ‘GSP’ style and win that fight.”
Of the five Brazilians that spoke about the UFC 258 headliner, two stated Burns would win, one expected Usman will get his hand raised, and the other two said it depends on where the fight ends up taking place. All these questions should be answered on Feb. 13.