UFC 258: Usman Seeks Pound-for-Pound Greatness Against Burns

Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns, UFC 258
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 12: (L-R) Opponents Kamaru Usman of Nigeria and Gilbert Burns of Brazil face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on February 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is looking strengthen his grip on the division, but his former training partner Gilbert Burns stands in the way of his move up the pound-for-pound list at UFC 258.

Despite three consecutive high profile opponents, Kamaru Usman has not veered away from letting his skills do the talking.  He unseated dominant champion and television personality Tyron Woodley, avoided a war of words in the media against Colby Covington, and held his ground against the onslaught of the UFC’s BMF in Jorge Masvidal.  He has officially swept the field of the obvious contenders, and now only up-and-coming or familiar foes are left.

Usman has accumulated a 16 fight win-streak going back to 2013 that not only includes the victories over Masvidal, Covington, and Woodley but also top-ranked contender Leon Edwards and a season winning victory on The Ultimate Fighter.  There are more contenders eager to break through for their own (and in some cases another) crack at the title, but another defense would put Usman in rarefied air as only three other current title holders have three title defenses.  Should he remain active in 2021, it would be difficult to deny moving Usman up into the upper-echelon of the pound-for-pound conversation.

Gilbert “Durinho” Burns took advantage of the circumstances to become one of the breakout stars of 2020.  At the first event without spectators, Burns stole the show with a first round knockout over Demian Maia.  When travel restrictions kept Leon Edwards from entering the United States, Burns took his spot against Tyron Woodley and put on a throttling five round performance over the former champion.  Finally, when title fights for both the aforementioned Edwards and Masvidal failed to materialize, Burns stepped up to fight Usman for the championship.  A positive covid test kept Burns from ultimately making it to the fight, but his gamesmanship has been rewarded twice as he was given the next title shot against Usman in December (postponed) and has maintained it going into this Saturday’s contest.

An added factor in the bout is that Burns is very familiar with the nuances Usman brings to the table.  Burns was a training partner of Usman going back to their time at Sanford MMA until last year when the champion made the move to Colorado to work with coach Trevor Wittman.  While Burns does not carry the bravado of Usman’s recent opponents, his inside knowledge could carry him to one of the biggest upsets of 2021.  A former lightweight who struggled to put a long win-streak together, a victory over the dominant Usman to announce himself as one of the very best in the world would be the perfect storm to shake up the welterweight division.

Burns will bring an imposing arsenal of high volume striking and a competent grappling attack to the bout.  Though he gives up the advantages of size, height, and reach to Usman, his multi-faceted attack and forward pressure bring problems if he can keep the champion on his heels.  Usman must establish himself on the feet early to halt Burn’s forward momentum and open up his offense.  Initiating the action and introducing the threat of a takedown early will force Burns to be more cautious getting into range and allow the champion control the center of the Octagon or aid him in getting top position on the mat.

Looking ahead in 2021, a victory for Burns would open up a world of possibilities with anyone from the current top five being viable opponents for his next outing.  A victory for Usman would have many looking at Leon Edwards or Stephen Thompson as the next possible title challenger.