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UFC Fight Night: Woodley v Burns Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 258’s Gilbert Burns

Knockout artist and submission ace, Gilbert Burns, will battle dominant wrestler, Kamaru Usman, this Saturday (Feb. 13, 2021) at UFC 258 from UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Weight classes are a funny thing. Burns was no scrub at 155 pounds, but he never strung together more than two wins, and few expected a title run from “Durinho” after the Brazilian suffered several losses over the years. When Burns jumped up a weight class on short-notice, it didn’t necessarily sound like a recipe for success. However, momentum is equally funny. A competitive short-notice win over Alexey Kunchenko really got the ball rolling, building Burns’ win streak to three and giving him the confidence to call for more last-second opportunities. All of a sudden, Burns has won five straight, knocked out Demian Maia, and set himself up for a main event with Tyron Woodley.

Burns crushed it, and his title shot was suddenly secure. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Burns’ kickboxing is a mix of strong fundamentals and simple strength. Like many Henri Hooft-trained strikers, Burns doesn’t do anything outrageous, but he is very effective. There’s a definite philosophy to Burns striking that reads something like, “If I’m going to throw a strike, throw it hard!”

For one, Burns’ kicks have come a long way. Burns likes to move forward and stalk opponents, so he isn’t looking to dance around at range, but Burns is now far better at punishing foes as he advances with kicks.

His primary kick of choice is the calf kick. Against an Orthodox opponent, little set up is required for Burns to punt out his opponent’s ankle whenever the lead foot/ankle/calf is a bit too close. Often times, Burns kicks the leg out so damn hard that his opponent is forced to stumble to recover stance, allowing Burns a free opening for his punches.

UFC Fight Night: Burns v Moret Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In consecutive fights with Jason Saggo and Dan Moret, Burns showed what happened when his opponents do not earn his respect. Against both grapplers, Burns pretty fearlessly pushed forward into the pocket, unloading with big overhands and left hooks — generally his power punches of choice (GIF).

Burns has proven quite violent when his opponent is trapped along the fence. Opposite Saggo, Burns forced his opponent’s stance to square and then teed off, landing a heavy uppercut after showing the overhand several times (GIF). Burns presented Gunnar Nelson with a double threat while trapped on the fence as well, shooting numerous double-leg takedowns before instead jumping into a flush knee (GIF).

Often times, Burns is looking to draw offense out of his opponent with his pressure. Ducking under a punch is commonly the setup for his double-leg takedown, but he’ll also slip/duck low before returning with a heavy hook or overhand.

Burns’ performance against Demian Maia is partially responsible for his current surge, and it really was a masterpiece. Much of Burns’ brilliance was on display on the mat, but his kickboxing was sharp and effective too (if more brief). Early on, Burns was uncharacteristically more evasive for obvious reasons, but he was also slamming his shin into the calf and mid-section of his Southpaw foe.

After several minutes of wrestling, Burns was able to escape to his feet, and he capitalized on his foe’s momentary fatigue. Pressing Maia, Burns put a stiff one-two combination down the middle. When Maia tried to reassert himself with the jab, Burns stood his ground, slipped, and cracked the veteran with a left hook that ended the bout (GIF).

UFC Fight Night: Maia v Burns Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

Burns continued to look better than ever against Woodley. In that bout, Burns beat his foe to the punch, both figuratively and literally. In fact, the fight began with an exchange of overhand swings, which Burns won mostly by getting his head off the center line (GIF).

As the fight progressed, Burns stayed ahead mostly by taking the initiative and throw more strikes. There were some crafty moments, however, such as when Burns excellently showed a lead leg kick feint and instead stepped into a clean left hook-right hand combination (GIF). It really goes back to Burns throwing everything with power: Woodley had to check the calf kick, because it was brutal, but once Burns noticed him checking, he threw several hard punches instead.

Defensively, Burns has improved plenty. However, it’s still worth mentioning that he does tend to load up on his power punches. In his most recent loss, Dan Hooker was able to fight his way inside Burns’ swings several times, timing him with shorter punches that decided the fight.


Unlike a fair amount of credentialed jiu-jitsu guys, Burns is a quality athlete, strong and quick. That helps a ton in wrestling exchanges, as does his improved ability to measure and control distance while reading reactions.

A majority of the time, Burns looks to shoot his double-leg along the fence (GIF). There’s a reason that’s a common technique: it works really well! His power punches are remarkably effective at convincing an opponent to keep his hands high, at which point Burns is in on the hips.

If his hands lock, his opponent is probably going for a ride.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Copenhagen-Nelson vs Burns Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Should his opponent pull him off the waist and up into the clinch, that’s no guarantee of success. Burns has pulled off some powerful clinch throws, usually by locking his hands and gaining outside position with his knee. Against Nelson, Burns gracefully used an overhook throw to counter Nelson’s forward pressure, fully planting him on his back (GIF).

Against Woodley, Burns pulled off the exceptionally rare accomplishment of scoring a double leg takedown in the open against the excellent defensive wrestler. Woodley was looking to regain momentum with a right hand, but Burns timed the shot perfectly and overpowered his foe’s hips (GIF).

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A gi- and no-gi Worlds gold medalist, ADCC bronze medalist, and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) grappling coach, Burns is one of the very best submission fighters in UFC. Eight of his wins overall have come via tapout, including four inside the Octagon.

Generally, submission aces in MMA tend to search for the back mount and finish from there. Burns can definitely count himself in that group, finishing a few fights via rear-naked choke in the manner one would expect. However, Burns is unusually aggressive with his armbar, which has tapped three UFC foes.

UFC Fight Night: Burns v Davis Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Against Lukasz Sajewski, that finish came from back mount. Burns secured a kimura trap, allowed his foe’s head to slip free, and threw his legs across the face — smooth and easy. Christos Giagos was forced by Burns to make a bad decision. Mounted by the Brazilian, he tried to buck and push his foe off. That works quite a bit in MMA, but Burns was able to latch onto the arm and finish (GIF). Finally, Alex Oliveira also found himself mounted, and Burns was similarly able to latch onto an out-stretched arm.

There are a couple key details about how Burns completes the armbar that separate him from the many fighters who have fallen off top position in pursuit of a quick tap. Namely, Burns is excellent at going belly down. He maintains a tight squeeze with his thighs and usually hooks the head, keeping his opponent in danger at all times. In addition, Burns will often control a leg, allowing him to more easily roll his opponent and regain top position (GIF).

In addition, Burns is really good at tearing through his opponent’s grip. As he falls back, Burns will take his shin and go across his opponent’s connected hands. It looks visually similar to a triangle, but instead Burns is quickly kick off that connection and hipping into the submission.

UFC 179: Burns v Giagos Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Lastly, Burns showed off some creative defense against Maia. The first time Maia shot in against “Durinho,” Burns attempted a funk roll rather than defend traditionally, hooking the far leg and diving beneath. However, he also entered into a jiu-jitsu style leg entanglement at the same time, successfully blending the two grappling arts.

When Maia did work his way to Burns’ back, the Brazilian took a risk. Before Maia was fully settled and locked into his trademark body triangle, Burns swam an arm beneath Maia’s legs. Could Maia have attacked with a triangle or arm bar in response? Yes, however, it worked out, as Burns escaped out the bottom before Maia could effectively respond.

Most fighters cannot afford to take a such a risk against Maia, but Burns pulled it off.


Burns is a threat to Kamaru Usman. The Brazilian packs genuine knockout power, strong wrestling and world-class grappling. He also appears to be a match for Usman in terms of raw strength ... or at least closer than most Welterweights. If Burns can prevent the usual Usman shutdown tactics, there’s a real chance he can do damage to the champion unlike anyone previous.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 258 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 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.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 258: “Usman vs. Burns” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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