For his first UFC title fight, Gilbert Burns doesn’t need to do much research.
In the main event of UFC 258 on Feb. 13 in Las Vegas, the Brazilian takes on former teammate and UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. This fight was originally scheduled to take place last July, but Burns (19-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) was forced out by a positive COVID-19 test. The two were later booked in December for UFC 256, but Usman was unable to fight because of injury.
Now, the pair are expected to meet next month in a third booking, but it’s not going to be the first time the two can exchange punches.
“Me and Kamaru had over 200 rounds sparring, at least,” Burns told MMA Junkie. “We started training together in 2012 in Blackzillians. Then Blackzillians broke down, they disappeared, so we moved with Henri Hooft. We went to a place called Combat Club. Then we were there for almost a year, and then we opened up the Hard Knocks. We were at Hard Knocks for two years. Then we moved to Sanford MMA and then we been in Sanford for a total of two years. So I’ve trained with Kamaru for seven years and we both love to train.”
“He was a good training partner for me and I was a good partner for him. Just sparring sessions, over 200. And just the grappling sessions, plus the wrestling sessions, for sure I have so many hours on the mat with Kamaru. We know each other very well.”
When Burns became a title challenger at 170 pounds, picking up wins over Demian Maia and former champion Tyron Woodley in succession in early 2020, the training relationship between Usman (17-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC) and Burns ended. Under the tutelage of Trevor Wittman, Burns’ rise forced Usman to take his training to Colorado.
Burns fondly remembers training with Usman and would not downplay the fact that Usman was a fantastic partner and a great support in his career.
“It was hard work for both,” Burns said. “He beat me up a couple of times; I beat him up a couple of times. It was very competitive, especially when I went up to 170. I think I was always a natural welterweight, but as soon as I moved up (from 155 pounds), I got a little bigger and then I felt even better with all the welterweights at the gym.
“But it was always good work. Kamaru was always a guy that if I saw that he was available, I was always looking to drill or to train and with him. We helped each other a lot.”
Come Feb. 13, in order to fulfill his dream of being a UFC champion, Burns has to take out Usman. Burns wants to keep the war purely company, even though they have history and they know each other very well.
“I have so much respect for Kamaru,” Burns said. “I like him a lot and it’s going to be a competition. No bad blood, nothing. I have nothing against him. He’s been a great champion, a good teammate. We were never close friends, we never texted each other or anything, it was always about fighting.”