UFC 288: Burns and Muhammad Look to Turn a Big Risk Into a Bigger Reward

Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns, UFC 288
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - MAY 05: (L-R) Opponents Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns of Brazil face off during the UFC 288 ceremonial weigh-in at Prudential Center on May 05, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Two of the UFC’s most consistent welterweight veterans are stepping up on short notice with the goal of securing a title shot as Gilbert Burns takes on Belal Muhammad at UFC 288.

Perhaps the pressure is off for Gilbert Burns going into Saturday.  In the past year, “Durinho” has enjoyed the kind of fan adoration that eluded him earlier in his career.  He currently resides in that odd space where despite losing in a title fight, in 2021 to Kamaru Usman, he has gone on to become even more beloved by the fans and more daunting to his competition.  A longtime veteran who began as a lightweight in the UFC, Burns is in the midst of a 4-2 run that has seen him best the likes of perennial contenders Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny to remain at the top of the welterweight standings.

Most importantly, has been more active compared to his opponent going into their five round co-headliner on two week’s notice.  After dropping a Fight of the Year candidate with Khamzat Chimaev last year, Burns has bounced back with authoritative performances against Magny and UFC superstar Jorge Masvidal in 2023.  The latter, arguably the biggest victory of his career, came roughly a month ago and Burns has said he expected a potential opportunity shortly after his bout and as such kept himself from getting out of shape.  Now having proven he’s willing to take on all-comers, Burns may well feel that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing what he does and making a quick turnaround once again.

Belal Muhammad’s road to a title, with respect to Burns, has been longer and as such has the potential for more heartbreak.  “Remember the Name” currently rides an impressive eight fight win-streak that has seen him best fellow veterans such as Thompson and Vicente Luque while also turning away young up-and-comers such as Sean Brady in the past several years.  His only hiccup, if you could call it that, was a short notice turnaround two years ago in which an inadvertent eye-poke led to a No Contest in a bout with future champion Leon Edwards.  Since then, he’s arguably been even more impressive than ever as he has climbed his way past the more boisterous and braggadocios stars in the division.

After not having tasted defeat since 2019, to have the win-streak snapped without even challenging for UFC gold would be disappointing.  But the welterweight division is in a state of flux as contenders are jockeying for position to see if they can unseat Colby Covington from his spot as the challenger incumbent.  With the ever-present risk that Burns and another contender could compete and nudge him out of his perch, Muhammad electing to meet Burns with the same short-notice handicap could be the best move as he tries to secure that elusive fight for the belt.  It should be noted that Muhammad arguably complicates his case further as he is coming off fasting for several weeks for the religious observance of Ramadan.  While Muhammad has said it did not hinder ability to stay in shape to compete in a five-round fight, it is not unfair to wonder if the change in the change in routine affects the performance of a high level athlete like Muhammad.

UFC President Dana White has held firm that Colby Covington remains the next title challenger for Leon Edwards and that this Saturday’s winner would get the winner of that bout.  Should either Edwards or Covington be unable to make it to the bout, then it would open the door for Saturday’s winner to likely compete for the title or an interim belt in their next outing.  While welterweight could see another contender enter the running, it would be difficult to see any fighter make a case to get ahead of either Burns or Muhammad on the back of their current run.


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