On Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nevada, Gilbert Burns became the first fighter on the UFC roster to compete twice during the Coronavirus pandemic. On March 14th he knocked out Demian Maia in an empty arena in Brazil, and then on Saturday night he routed Tyron Woodley in the UFC Apex studio, cementing himself as a serious contender at 170 pounds (watch the highlights here).
Unfortunately there’s a bit of a logjam at the top of the division. Negotiations between Champ Kamaru Usman and BMF Jorge Masvidal are on the rocks. Leon Edwards is currently sitting on an 8 fight win streak. And there’s always Conor McGregor lurking about, waiting for an opportunity to snatch up a third UFC title.
So while Gilbert Burns is hopeful that his dominant performance (and willingness to say yes to UFC brass) will help him jump the line, he’s not willing to rest on his current accomplishments.
“I just told Dana in the backstage area I want to fight before July,” Burns said during the UFC on ESPN 9 post-event press conference. “If those guys keep being crazy, I want to fight for the title. If not, if you book another fight for the title, give me who’s available. If it’s not Colby, give me Leon Edwards, I just want to stay busy.”
Burns detailed a moment leading up to UFC 249 where he even offered to step in against Urijah Hall at middleweight.
“When Jacare got the COVID-19 I was like wow, they might cancel everything,” Burns said. “I might not fight Tyron Woodley. But I might fight this guy tomorrow. I better get that fight any way, in case they cancel. And I call Sean and he say ‘Are you crazy, you going to fight Woodley!’ And I say the fight is still up? Okay okay, no problem.”
“I think I need to be a little more selective right now for sure. But I think all my improvement, all my evolution in the sport is because I’m competing, I’m getting better, I’m fighting, and I want to fight. For sure I want to fight for the title next but if it’s not happening don’t think I’m going to hold on that position. I’m going to fight another guy, you know?”
While Burns has only suffered three defeats in 22 fights, there was a point around 2016 where it seemed his UFC career was hanging by a thread. Burns laid out some of the important changes that turned him from a middle of the pack fighter to the exciting contender he’s seen at these days.
“I started doing a lot of things,” Burns said. “I changed my conditioning coach, I started doing a mental coach. I added a lot. But one of the things that helped me a lot was getting back to jiujitsu. That was my roots, I was falling in love with the striking and I’d just do striking. I was sparring and sometimes I was taking the guy down and in the beginning it was too easy, taking them down and submitting them.”
“I’m in a comfort zone, you gotta do more standup. And I start just doing standup and I miss the timing with the takedowns and the timing with jiujitsu. And I realized that’s my roots and I need to come back. And I started competing a lot of jiujitsu and training more and I think that was the key. As soon as I got back to jiujitsu everything started clicking. Takedowns were there, striking was there. And I just kept training and it clicked.”
“After I stopped with the crazy weight cut, I started performing a lot better too,” he added. “That was the key I think, one of the keys. Its a lot of things, not one thing that I can point. But we stopped with that craziness and I feel a lot better.”
As for how uncomfortable it would be to get a shot against Kamaru Usman, who is one of his main training partners and teammates?
“I dunno, that’s gonna be weird,” Burns admitted. “But we’re both professionals. I like the guy a lot and it motivated me a lot when he became champion.”