UFC 288 got a big-time addition with the booking of a huge welterweight clash, with Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad agreeing to face off in a five-round co-main event bout that looks set to crown the next number-one contender in the 170-pound division.
It means a quick turnaround for Burns, who defeated Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision at UFC 287 and is now set to make appearances on back-to-back pay-per-view cards.
But, given what’s at stake, “Durinho” said he knows he’s making the right decision as he looks to ensure he isn’t left out of the shuffle at the top of the UFC’s crowded welterweight title picture.
“I didn’t want to sit down and wait, especially having Belal Muhammad racing with me to get the title shot,” he told Submission Radio.
“And I heard Kamaru wants to fight. Maybe Shavkat wants a fight. And I just think, if Belal fights Kamaru or he fights Shavkat, it doesn’t matter who wins, this guy has another opportunity to get a title shot on top of me. So, I didn’t feel comfortable to sit out and wait.
“Whenever I saw the interview that Leon said [he needs more time], I already [thought], OK, I’m gonna fight. I don’t care. And whenever I saw a spot, a co-main event available, I just start putting the word out there. And then it took a little while, but now the fight is on.”
An interesting wrinkle to the bout is the fact that it’s a five-round fight. UFC president Dana White stated on social media that both men wanted it to be a five-rounder, and Burns said he’s been asking for five-round bouts for a while now, and is happy to finally get his wish.
“Now I can get a finish. If I want to solidify myself as the number one contender, I gotta take this guy out,” he said.
“I’ve been asking for five rounds, even with the Chimaev fight, with the Jorge fight, with the Neil Magny fight I asked for five rounds. They didn’t give to me. But this time he asked as well.
So, when he asked for it, I said, now we’re doing five rounds.
“With Belal Muhammad, I’m putting this guy away. I don’t care how many rounds it takes, but I’m putting this guy out of there. There is no way he’s going 25 minutes with me. So, that’s the main reason to go five rounds, just to put this guy out and get a finish.”
With the date, the event and the duration all agreed, things all seemed set for the matchup, but Burns revealed that he had to bat away Muhammad’s request to take the fight at middleweight, rather than welterweight, due to his participating in Ramadan in the lead-up to the fight.
Burns said that he understands Muhammad’s religious commitment, but also explained why he refused his request.
“He didn’t even ask for 175, he asked for 185,” he said.
“And, like I said, I changed a lot of habits. I used to go up to 200, 205 after camp. Now I’m staying 187, 188 walking around. And this guy now wants to go middleweight?
“Like, I get it, you’re Muslim, you do your Ramadan, but at the same time, I don’t care. I’m not Muslim. You do whatever you want. I respect it. It’s not that I’m talking shit. You do whatever you have to do. But [don’t] ask for an excuse, ‘Oh, let me’. No. I don’t care.
“He was the first one that threw it out, ‘Oh, May 6, let’s fight.’ OK, let’s fight. ‘Oh, but I need…’ No. I’m not giving no favor to you. I’m not your friend. Like, if we’re friends, we’re going out, gonna do something, can you pay that for me? Yeah, you’re my friend, I pay for you. You’re not my friend. We’re going to war. Why should I help you and give you anything? I don’t care.
“If you cannot make weight, don’t say that you are ready. And he never asked for 175, he asked for middleweight, 185. And I said, ‘No, I’m not fighting [at that weight]. If you really wanna fight, it’s gonna be for number one contender, just make weight.’
“We’ve got a lot of guys doing Ramadan here. Like, Kevin Lee, he’s Muslim. I got a coach with me, he’s Muslim. One of my main training partners, that guy is Muslim. He’s training. I get it. You know, he tried it, but come on, bro.
“Look, if you really want to become a champion, if you really want the number one spot, just fight anyone, but show up and make weight. Like, in any sport, boxing, kickboxing, MMA, jiu-jitsu, grappling, wrestling, first we make weight, and then we fight. Don’t ask for help. ‘Oh, can you give me a pass?’ No, I don’t give you anything. I don’t care.”
Victory for either man should put them next in line for a shot at the welterweight title, which is due to be contested this summer when former interim champion Colby Covington faces off against Leon Edwards in a bout repeatedly stated by UFC president Dana White – though no date or location has been confirmed for the mooted matchup.
For Burns, it’s also an opportunity for him to be a part of that event, and he has already stated his intention to be the backup fighter for that title fight to ensure he’s in prime position to step in and take advantage if anything happens before fight night.
“For sure, for sure. I’ll be the backup. Because a lot of things can happen. A lot of things can happen in this sport. It’s a crazy sport,” he said.
“I remember I was fighting for the title. I had an amazing training camp. I was going to Abu Dhabi, flew to Vegas, and then I test positive for COVID. Then they called Masvidal. Masvidal got the title shot on seven days’ notice. Why not be ready? Why not just train a little more?
“Like I said, I’m changing my whole lifestyle. I’m feeling good. Why not just get five weeks, six weeks a little harder? You know, training for specific guy, study him a little bit, go out there and make weight? You know, if the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready. If you not, I take a little time off, rest up and go to the next fight. For sure, if everything goes good on my way May 6, I’ll be the backup.”
But, despite his willingness to be the number-one contender and act as the backup for a potential Edwards-Covington title clash later this summer, Burns still harbors hope of gatecrashing those championship plans by producing such a spectacular victory over Muhammad that he’ll be thrust to the very front of the queue for the next shot at “Rocky,” however adamant the UFC may be that Covington is next for the shot.
“Yes. I would love to say no, we are next, but yeah, Colby is definitely next. Let’s see. Everything is about performance. If I go there knock this guy out or submit him or do something spectacular, they’re gonna say, man, why Colby? Why not this guy? So, that’s another thing that I’m doing too. I was looking forward to getting a finish against Masvidal, but I couldn’t make that spectacular. But I do think if I get a spectacular finish this time, I might jump over this guy.”