Top-rated contender Gilbert Burns solemnly believes he’ll be the one to usurp UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 258 on Saturday night at UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Like most other title challengers before their fights, the 34-year-old Brazilian confidently predicted he’d capture UFC gold. But unlike other title seekers, Burns actually backed up that prediction with some pretty solid reasoning.
“I will be the next champion,” Burns told Heavy.
Usman vs. Sanford MMA?
For one thing, Burns said his 33-year-old adversary Usman is going to have more than just Burns to worry about when the cage door shuts.
The two stalwarts were once teammates together at Sanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Burns said their shared history will give him the edge.
While much has already been made about that specific storyline, Burns said one of the primary factors that would lead to his upset win over the UFC champ is all the insight and advice he’s received from all the other fighters from Sanford MMA that also worked with Usman.
“All my teammates know his game. All my coaches know his game,” Burns said.
So Usman leaving the gym last year to link up with famed MMA coach Trevor Wittman at Grudge Training Center in Colorado is something that actually made Usman’s old friends and coaches over at Sanford MMA part of the unique tapestry of forces that will ultimately fell the UFC champ.
At least, that’s what Burns believes.
“That’s what teams are supposed to do, and they have helped me get ready for this fight,” said Burns.
Burns: ‘I Sparred With Him A Lot’
Burns said he knows from over 200 rounds sparring with Usman when the two were teammates that he matches up well with the champ. Even when he was a lightweight contender, Burns said he and Usman worked together often, and that “Durinho” knows where he’ll have the edge.
“I was always a big lightweight, so I always sparred with guys who were at 170. I sparred with him a lot,” Burns said.
Burns: ‘I Became a Different Animal’
Most importantly, Burns believes he’s become the best fighter he’s ever been over the last six months, and that’s at least partly due to the fact that he was forced to pull out of UFC 251 last summer after testing positive for COVID-19.
“I do believe I became a different animal,” Burns said.
Before UFC 251, Burns had been on a serious tear in the welterweight ranks. After trouncing ex-champ Tyron Woodley in May, Burns was the clear top contender in the division.
But Burns admitted his body needed rest and recovery. It’s something he knew when he accepted his title shot at UFC 251, and something he was fast to remember when he wasn’t able to participate in that fight.
“How could I say no to a title shot?” Burns said.
But those nagging injuries had taken their toll, and to make matters worse, Burns said his training camp for that original title shot at UFC 251 last year was only going to be around four weeks.
“That camp was too short. Then, I got COVID,” Burns said.
Things much are different this time around. Where Burns felt rushed into the originally scheduled fight, now the welterweight terror feels like he’s had ample time to prepare for Usman.
“I had time to settle, to rest up. For sure, now I’ve had a lot more time to get better, to plan better, and to have a full training camp for the title shot,” Burns said.
Burns: ‘The Most Important Fight of My Life’
Burns believes all those things have conspired to make him the UFC’s next welterweight champion.
He labeled UFC 258 “the most important fight of my life” and said he believes he’s the best fighter he’s ever been right now.
If you’ve watched Burns’ stunning run over the last year or so, you know what a terrifying out he’s become at 170. That he might even be better this weekend? Yikes.
“I’m physically in way better shape. I’m very strong right now. The time off was a blessing,” Burns said.
Besides, Burns believes he won’t be heading into the Octagon alone on Saturday night. As one of the Team Captains at his gym, a fighter who teaches classes, corners other fighters and is generally considered one of the all-around good guys in the sport, Burns believes he’ll have his whole team with him inside the cage on fight night.
“I’m going to fight a guy who all my teammates and coaches know very well. They’ve put me in very good shape, and I feel very good going into this fight,” Burns said.
Burns plans to shock the world at UFC 258.
“I’m confident that I’m going to beat Kamaru Usman, not because of only the coaches and teammates, but because I [have] become a different animal over the last year and a half after I moved up to the welterweight division,” Burns said.
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