Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight veterans Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns will collide this weekend (Sat., May 6, 2023) at UFC 288 inside Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Muhammad is the most disrespected man at 170 pounds. His win streak and title shot claims are ignored by the promotion and plenty of fight fans alike, but some short-notice leverage may change the tide here. Stepping up on short-notice to defeat Burns is major, and it could be the final step to securing a shot at gold. Conversely, Burns has already challenged for the belt once, and he’s hungry for another opportunity. The Brazilian is back on his “anyone, anywhere” path, and that kind of gamble can certainly pay off quickly if he continues to pick up wins.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Vicente Luque (UFC Vegas 51), Stephen Thompson (UFC Vegas 45), Demian Maia (UFC 263), Sean Brady (UFC 280), Lyman Good (UFC Vegas 3), Tim Means (UFC Fight Night 121)
Key Losses: Geoff Neal (UFC Fight Night 143), Vicente Luque (UFC 205), Alan Jouban (UFC Fight Night 90)
Keys to Victory: Muhammad is a very adaptable fighter. He can push a hard pace by wrestling or striking, but “Remember The Name” can also play the sprawl-and-brawl strategy and carefully manage distance.
In this bout, a mix of strategies may be necessary, as there are two places where Burns is exceptionally dangerous: in the pocket and from top position. To help mitigate these threats, establishing the jab is absolutely key for Muhammad. That strike will help navigate Burns’ speed advantage, and he’s known to be vulnerable to straight shots inside his swings.
The other big question here is wrestling, and to that end, I believe Muhammad should actually be looking to use his takedowns. Burns has never been a great bottom player in the cage, and he’s been out-hustled in the wrestling previously. This is short-notice for each man, which could play a role in either’s conditioning, but I’d still trust Muhammad’s gas tank in a grind.
Key Wins: Stephen Thompson (UFC 264), Tyron Woodley (UFC on ESPN 9), Jorge Masvidal (UFC 287), Demian Maia (UFC Fight Night 170), Gunnar Nelson (UFC Fight Night 160), Neil Magny (UFC 283), Alexey Kunchenko (UFC Fight Night 156)
Key Losses: Kamaru Usman (UFC 258), Khamzat Chimaev (UFC 273), Dan Hooker (UFC 226), Michel Prazeres (UFC Fight Night 95)
Keys to Victory: Burns is a really dynamic Welterweight. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu master explodes forward with punches and takedowns alike, and it can be highly difficult to get off the tracks and away from his offense before he crashes forward.
Burns’ calf kick feels like it’s going to be a huge weapon here. Muhammad has to work the jab to keep Burns off him, and each time he extends his lead leg to probe with the jab, Burns has an opening to hammer his lead leg. Unlike Kamaru Usman, Muhammad’s not particularly known for his power, so if Burns gets clipped while kicking on the counter once or twice, it’s far less of a problem.
If Burns can take away Muhammad’s jab, he’s going to torch him on the feet. He’s so much quicker and more powerful that it’s just hard to see Muhammad being able to keep up without his best strike working effectively. Once the right hand is landing, Burns’ takedowns tend to follow quickly and are difficult to see.
This is likely a Welterweight title eliminator.
UFC and Dana White seem very set on Colby Covington vs. Leon Edwards as the next Welterweight title defense. Assuming that booking remains locked in stone — which, for pay-per-view (PPV) buy reasons, it probably will — the victor here should be considered set to face the winner. It’s not a guarantee, not when Shavkat Rakhmonov is lurking, but the stakes feel fairly clear.
At the same time, accepting this fight was a definite gamble for each man. Neither can be considered young for the 170-pound division. Muhammad has been building his current win streak for a very long time, and an end to it here would erase his hard-earned momentum. Burns, meanwhile, has already challenged for the belt once, and earning a second shot is never easy.
Really, neither man has time for setbacks.
At UFC 288, Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns will duel in the co-main event. Which Welterweight remains standing when the dust settles?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 288 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 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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