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By vanquishing Tyron Woodley in lopsided fashion in the UFC on ESPN 9 main event this past Saturday, Gilbert Burns instantly earned himself a spot on the short list of top welterweight contenders.
But unlike Jorge Masvidal, Leon Edwards or Colby Covington – all of whom UFC president Dana White recently mentioned as possible foes for Kamaru Usman – a title shot would put Burns in an interesting predicament. Both Burns and Usman train at Hard Knocks 365 in Florida, which would create a teammate-vs.-teammate matchup if they were booked to face one another.
If it means a chance to wear UFC gold, Burns is all in.
“We’re both professionals,” Burns said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “I like the guy a lot. He motivated me a lot when he became champion. We always like to work together because I had the jiu-jitsu and he had the wrestling and grappling. I don’t know, it’ll be weird, but I want to fight for the title. I want to be the champion. He’s the champion. That’s the only reason I would call for this fight, otherwise it don’t make no sense.”
“Durinho” has been a revelation at 170 pounds, posting victories over Alexey Kunchenko, Gunnar Nelson, Demian Maia and Woodley since moving up from the lightweight division. UFC on ESPN 9 was his most complete performance yet, as he nearly finished Woodley in the opening frame before controlling the fight for a full 25 minutes. Woodley spent the fight hunting for an opening to land his powerful right hand, but he was never able to connect meaningfully enough to swing momentum in his favor.
“I know he was dangerous in the beginning. So in the beginning, I was very aware,” Burns said. “Nothing surprised me at all. I knew he couldn’t hurt me … As the fight was going, I said, he hit hard, but [nothing different than I’ve] felt at the gym. [Training partner Vicente] Luque, he hits super hard.
“I executed everything I trained. I didn’t get the finish at the beginning. That is not a bad thing, for sure. I want to finish but I want to show everyone that I can fight five rounds with a former champion, take him down, do everything that I did. I feel great. Not being crazy, there are a lot of things that need to get better, need to get fixed to follow up. I’m happy with my performance, for sure.”
For months, Usman appeared to be on a collision course with Masvidal, especially following their confrontation on media row during Super Bowl week. In recent weeks, however, Masvidal has turned his attention toward a rematch with Nate Diaz, and Usman has even called out Conor McGregor. Regardless of what the future holds, Burns isn’t the type to play the waiting game.
“I need to be a little more selective [with opponents] right now for sure, but I think all my improvement, all my evolution in the sport is just because I’m competing, I’m getting better, I’m fighting,” Burns said. “I’m not afraid to fight. For sure, I’m want to fight for the title next. But if it’s not happening, don’t think I’m gonna hold on to that position. I’m gonna fight another guy.”