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The best-laid plans of mice and the Ultimate Fighting Championship often go awry when the coronavirus is involved.
Late Friday night, MMA Junkie reported that Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and has been forced out of his welterweight title fight with Kamaru Usman at UFC 251. The two were originally scheduled to headline the pay-per-view and first event on “Fight Island,” which will be located on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Usman will not be receiving a short-notice replacement opponent, and the promotion currently plans to reschedule the bout for a later date.
In addition to Burns, his brother Herbert Burns and coach Greg Jones also tested positive for the virus. The UFC set up a series of screening protocols, where fighters take tests for COVID-19 prior to flying to the hub city to gather for overseas travel. Once together – Las Vegas is one of a few cities the company is using – the fighters would fly as a group to the UAE via chartered planes. The organization stopped both Burns and Usman from getting on the flight in Las Vegas.
This news might not come as a shock to all involved, as one of Burns’ key training partners, One Championship two-division champ Aung La N Sang, tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Burns was looking to capture his first major title on the heels of a six-fight win streak with dominant victories over Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley in the last four months. In this last win, over former titleholder Woodley, Burns won by 50-44 scores on two of the three scorecards.
Usman will have to wait a little longer to defend his belt for the second time. His first defense came against Colby Covington at UFC 245, where he finished his polarizing opponent in the fifth round. Usman captured the title in March 2019 over the aforementioned Woodley, and like Burns, Usman also earned two 50-44 scores from the judges in that bout. “The Nigerian Nightmare” has won 15 consecutive bouts dating back to his defeat in 2013 against Jose Caceres, including 11 inside the Octagon.
UFC 251 will now be headlined by a featherweight championship rematch between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway. Moving up to the co-main event is vacant bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo.