There’s an argument to be made, heading into UFC Vegas this weekend, that there’s more pressure on Tyron Woodley than there is on Gilbert Burns.
Woodley is the former champion returning to the octagon for the first time since losing the belt. That was at UFC 235, at the hands of Kamaru Usman, over a year ago now. As for Burns (18-3), the Brazilian is on an impressive win streak, but has been flying under the radar when it comes to casual fans.
At the UFC Vegas media day, however, Burns countered that “there’s always pressure. I’m not going to lie. I’m nervous, a little nervous, that I’m going to fight.” The circumstances, really, don’t seem to matter. It’s not records or title losses, or even that he’s the main event. In fact, when it comes to being the headliner, said Burns, “I’m not buying into that. You’re always nervous. But it’s all about control.”
“Everyone gets nervous,” Burns pointed out. So why should he be any different? “I’m always nervous. It’s getting normal.” His last fight, coming just months ago at UFC Brasilia in March, is helping him “get more at home with the UFC, with the fights. I feel comfortable. That’s what I like to do. I’d rather be here than at home.”
Speaking of nerves, one thing that might help is Burns’ clearly improved striking. Despite being a BJJ black belt, he has power in his hands. And he’s showed it.
“I’m confident with that. My striking keeps evolving a lot. I put a lot of work in with my coach Henri Hooft,” he said. “I trained a little bit with the champ Kamaru Usman, with a lot of high level guys that we have at the gym. Robbie Lawler.”
“It’s a fight every day at the gym,” admitted Burns. “That makes me more confident.”
That improvement has been a long time coming. Starting out, Gilbert Burns was known for his ground game. “When I made that transition to MMA I was just putting all my money on my striking. I got better, but I think in a certain way, I kind of stopped a little bit with the jiu-jitsu,” he admitted. “A couple bad results, we kind of talked about and realized that, and then I just found the best group of jiu-jitsu guys in South Florida.” That, he said, included Fight Sports Miami, among others. From there, Burns took part in jiu-jitsu tournaments to stay current. Eventually, something started “just clicking. My striking just started flowing better.”
“I can mix it up better. I can take you down, I can do my jiu-jitsu on the highest level. I know these guys, they might not stay that, but they’re scared. I lay on top of these guys, or even on bottom, I know they don’t want that.” That, combined with his fists, makes him excited for what he can bring to the table right now, Burns finished.
Saturday night, it’s not just his striking and ground game, but his cardio that will be tested. Burns has never been in a five-round fight. Opponent Tyron Woodley has proclaimed loudly that he intends to drag the Brazilian into deep waters.
“I love it. I love it. And I can’t wait to be in the deep waters,” retorted Burns. “I can’t wait. I trained my whole life for that, since the Jiu Jitsu, here with MMA, UFC and I can’t wait. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s see. Let’s see who’s gonna drown first.”
UFC on ESPN 9 goes down this Saturday, May 30 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV. The event airs live on ESPN (TSN in Canada).