Welterweight contenders Belal Muhammad (No. 4) and Gilbert Burns (No. 5) locked horns tonight (Sat., May 6, 2023) in UFC 288’s short-notice — and meaningful — pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event from inside Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Indeed, the winner of the 170-pound showdown is all but “guaranteed” the next title shot after division champion, Leon Edwards, battles the needle-moving Colby Covington later this year. And that was all an out-of-shape Muhammad — the most disrespected man at 170 pounds — needed to accept the bout against an in-shape Burns, who has already challenged for the belt once, but remains hungry for another crack at the strap.
In short, it was a super important bout, one that required a rare five-round stipulation, which is typically reserved for main events and championship bouts. And when the chaotic dust finally settled, it was Muhammad who once again delivered a workman-like performance to win a wide decision on the judges scorecards.
Muhammad came out switching stances and giving Burns a bunch of different looks early. He found a home for his straight left, while Burns was content to cover up and wait for his opportunity to exploit an opening. Burns missed with a high kick, but landed with a nice right hand ... then another. Low kicks from Burns started to show damage on Muhammad’s lead leg. Body kick from Burns, then the pair crashed to the mat, with Muhammad getting back to his feet first and burying to hard kicks into the Brazilian’s bread basket. One minute to go in the first round and Burns landed a solid body kick, but Muhammad countered with a left hand that knocked Burns off balance. Muhammad then hit Burns with a question mark kick at the end of the first round that wobbled “Durinho.”
Both fighters came out for round two using their legs — Muhammad’s body kicks really seemed to have impact. Muhammad chased Burns around the cage early in the second stanza, once again switching stances and seemingly confusing him. Burns landed a nice overhand right, but Muhammad — unfazed — fired back immediately. Nice right hand from Burns, which staggered Muhammad for a minute. Muhammad fired off another body kick, causing Burns to lower his hands to protect his mid-section. Burns couldn’t really get much going in the first 10 minutes — Muhammad was the far busier and effective fighter through two rounds.
Between rounds, Burns’ corner implored him to pick up the pace, while Muhammad’s corner wanted their fighter to continue bringing the fight. After about two minutes, neither fighter followed instructions — Burns continued to circle out of range and not offer much offense. Muhammad backed burns into the corner with back-to-back high kicks, then a hard body kick, which appeared to get a rise out of Burns. However, he still was seemingly unable to pull the trigger. He uncorked a body kick and a nice overhand right toward the end of the round, but it was pretty clear that something was off — he shook out his left arm often. Muhammad was unconcerned, landing hard kicks and pushing the pace through the first 15 minutes.
“Championship rounds” and Burns thought he was in the second frame. He also let his team know that his left arm was not working. Nevertheless, Muhammad went to work, which Burns didn’t like, firing back with a violent burst just to get “Remember the Name” away from him. Muhammad continued to just destroy Burn’s right side with heavy kicks ... followed by a slick one-two combination. Burns dove for an ankle midway through the round, didn’t get it, but drilled Muhammad with a better shot upstairs anyway. He tried it again, stopped himself to shake out his dead left arm, but Muhammad drilled him with a straight right hand down the middle.
The fifth round was more of the same — Muhammad styling and Burns covering up, hoping to score a one-hitter quitter with his one healthy wing. Regardless of Burns’ health, Muhammad has done everything asked of him — and more — to secure a 170-pound title shot.
It may not happen this year with Edwards wanting to wait until after summer to fight Covington, but it will come in time. And there are few contenders, ever, more deserving than “Remember the Name.”
Final result: Muhammad def. Burns via unanimous decision
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