Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight talents Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson will collide this weekend (Sat., July 10, 2021) at UFC 264 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Burns ascended up the 170-pound ladder with remarkable speed, meeting his former teammate Kamaru Usman for the title just four victories after his weight class switch. Despite a strong start, Usman ended up pulverizing “Durinho,” leaving the veteran in real need of a bounce back performance. On the flip side, “Wonderboy” isn’t all that far off from 40, but no one seems to have told him (except maybe Colby Covington). After an odd, arguably unlucky streak saw him end up 1-3-1 in five bouts, Thompson has rebounded in tremendous fashion, absolutely piecing up two of the division’s hottest prospects to return to the title mix.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Tyron Woodley (UFC on ESPN 9), Demian Maia (UFC Fight Night 170), Gunnar Nelson (UFC Fight Night 160), Alexey Kunchenko (UFC Fight Night 156), Alex Oliveira (UFC Fight Night 62), Olivier Aubin-Mercier (UFC 231)
Key Losses: Kamaru Usman (UFC 258), Dan Hooker (UFC 226), Michel Prazeres (UFC Fight Night 95), Rashid Magomedov (UFC Fight Night 77)
Keys to Victory: Over the years, Burns has developed from a grappling specialist to a well-rounded threat. At Welterweight, he’s proven himself a very physical athlete, both with his takedown skills and heavy punches.
It is time for someone to really test Thompson’s wrestling skills. Largely, “Wonderboy” has been able to keep it standing since his first professional loss in 2012, but it’s actually been quite some time since his takedown defense was truly tested. Woodley was the most recent wrestling threat, and he found success on the mat, though he didn’t have the gas tank to maintain that strategy for the full five rounds.
To avoid getting stuck at distance with the Karateka, Burns has must present a multi-faceted attack. At distance, he should be kicking Thompson’s calf and following up with combinations. Cutting off the cage should be a major focus, as should looking to catch kicks and time double leg entries beneath punches.
When allowed to play his game, Thompson is damn-near unbeatable. Burns must break the mold and force the fight into other areas, whether that’s in the clinch, the pocket or the mat.
Key Wins: Rory MacDonald (UFC Fight Night 89), Jorge Masvidal (UFC 217), Robert Whittaker (UFC 178), Vicente Luque (UFC 244), Johny Hendricks (UFC Fight Night 82), Geoff Neal (UFC Vegas 17)
Key Losses: Tyron Woodley (UFC 211), Anthony Pettis (UFC Fight Night 148), Darren Till (UFC Fight Night 130), Matt Brown (UFC 145)
Keys to Victory: Thompson is a master of his craft. “Wonderboy” moves and manages distance so well, angling off when opponents try to hit find him with punches and timing his own counter shots.
In this bout, it’s imperative that Thompson gains his opponent’s respect early. Burns likes to bully opponents, but as Kamaru Usman demonstrated, that’s much more difficult if his forward progress is being halted by a stiff jab to the nose. Thompson could take an additional page from Usman’s book by looking to interrupt Burns’ attempts to kick with hard punches.
Otherwise, Thompson’s side kick should be a very useful weapon here. Burns is a dangerous striker, but he tends to enter on straight lines, which means Thompson’s side kick will have a large target in the center of his opponent’s chest to keep him away.
This is a major bout at 170 pounds.
Despite Dana White’s comments referring to Colby Covington as the next challenger in line for a shot at Usman’s gold, the bout has yet to be announced. Given that his argument for another title opportunity is relatively weak, a big win for any top Welterweight contender could still potentially unseat “Chaos.”
For Burns, that’s unlikely. His bout with Usman was too recent and ended too violently. He will need multiple wins to score a rematch. Thompson, however, has a chance. He’s a fresh match up for the champion in a division otherwise hampered by rematches, and a strong performance here against a top-ranked contender could be just the push needed to actually make the match up happen.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 264 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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At UFC 264, Gilbert Burns and Stephen Thompson will go to war. Which man will earn the victory?