JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former welterweight title challenger Gilbert Burns knows a tough test is in store at UFC 273, but he sees it as another opportunity to prove why he’s among the top of the division.
Standing across Burns (20-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) on Saturday will be Khamzat Chimaev, an undefeated wrecking machine who has quickly captured an abundance of hype after just four UFC appearances.
Chimaev (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) has finished three consecutive fights in the first round and been pushed to the top of the division, with many believing he’s one win away from a title shot against champion Kamaru Usman. It’s a challenge that Burns did not shy away from. In fact, it’s one that he requested.
“This guy is very tough, but we’re gonna test and see if this guy is real or not,” Burns told reporters at Wednesday’s media day. “I’m here. I’m the guy to test this guy, to stop the hype train. So, I like it. I’m here in this position. I asked to be here. I want to fight the best guys. If he’s one of those, if he’s that beast, that’s the guy I want to fight.”
After racking up six consecutive wins against top welterweights, including a dominant display over former champion Tyron Woodley, Burns was granted the opportunity to fight for the title against Kamaru Usman at UFC 258. Although he was unable to find a way to victory, Burns rebounded nicely five months later at UFC 264 with a decision win over former title challenger Stephen Thompson. He entered both fights as the betting underdog, and the same will be the case on Saturday as he enters at +350 odds, according to Tipico Sportsbook.
“I like to be the underdog,” Burns said. “I’ve been the underdog, in what, maybe my last five or six fights? To be honest, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what people think about you. … What matters is what I think, what my team thinks, what my family thinks. They all believe in me; they all support me.”
Burns has a lot of respect for Chimaev’s skills inside the cage but is a little skeptical about how he will perform against a proven high-level jiu-jitsu practitioner who has been in there against the best in the world. After all, Chimaev’s first two UFC opponents, John Phillips and Rhys McKee, went a combined 2-7 and are no longer with the promotion.
“I think his wrestling is very good,” Burns said. “His control, his ground-and-pound is good. And the fact that he’s very long helps, too, so he gets good grips, good control, knows where to put the weight. Very technical, hits hard. But the opponents didn’t do too well. Those guys don’t know how to get up. The other ones don’t know how to wrestle. I don’t even know, I got to look at it to watch it, but his first two UFC opponents, do you know their name? Anyone? No one knows. For sure, they’re pretty tough to be in the UFC, but they’re not Gilbert Burns. They’re not in the top of the division. So, all due respect, sorry for you if you were one of these guys, no offense, but I’m in the top of the division, you know?
“I give this guy the opportunity. I want to fight him because I believe he’s very good, but I don’t see a monster, I see a human being. Confident, a little bit cocky, undefeated, thinks he’s the best, untouchable – but we shall see. We shall see Saturday.
Often when two grapplers face each other, the question of who is better in that department goes unanswered because the fight unfolds on the feet. Burns hopes that Chimaev brings his wrestling game early as he anticipates proving he can deal with what he has to offer on the ground. He expects a fast start, and if the fight stays standing, Burns believes he will excel, but he must be aware of and avoid the big power punches.
A win in such a high-profile fight over Chimaev in the featured bout before the two title fights could line up another shot at the champion, but Burns doesn’t seem too concerned if that ends up not being the case.
“We’ll see. Everything depends about the performance,” Burns explained. “If I go out there and get a finish, I believe I earned it. No sad stories. If I don’t, I’ll fight another guy. I’m not thinking too much ahead because the scenery is so big. Kamaru gonna fight Leon. I think he’s gonna win, but he might lose. Vicente is fighting Belal. I do believe Vicente’s gonna win, so it all depends. Maybe Kamaru, maybe that fight goes to September. Maybe if he lost, it’s got to be a trilogy, so I’m not thinking too much ahead. I have a big Russian problem in front of me. I’m never looking past this guy. I think he’s very tough, and I respect that.
“I do believe the way we both fight, I’m gonna get a finish.”