It’s rare to see teammates – even former members of the same gym – fight; especially for a world title.
Both UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and title challenger Gilbert Burns are long-time teammates at Florida gym Hard Knocks 365, training under Henri Hooft.
Though they have prepared for fights together for years, there will be no split loyalties as Usman has decided to train under Trevor Wittman for his UFC 251 title defence. Based out of Colorado, Wittman works with notable names such as interim UFC lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and former UFC strawweight queen Rose Namajunas.
This will mark the first time “The Nigerian Nightmare” has ever trained outside of Florida, after originally fighting out of the now-defunct Blackzillians camp.
“Florida was the base for a long time, but you grow from there,” Usman told ESPN. “We always had a ton of guys, some of the best training partners out there and some great coaches.
“But I wanted a little more specific attention at this point in my career. Someone to be able to say, ‘You’re going to come in at this time and work on this particular skill.’ It’s very tough to do that when there are 40 to 50 guys in the room with you who also need to get attention.”
Usman went on to say the move was inevitable regardless of whether he was facing Burns or not.
“I think eventually I would have changed things up anyway,” Usman said to Brett Okamoto. “We had a lot of welterweights at that gym. At some point, when you’re training with these guys on a daily basis and you’re the champion of the world, these guys know you in and out and if they get the better of you one day, they’re licking their chops thinking it’s their time.
“A little separation from that is good. It keeps that element of surprise, because these guys feel like they know you.”
Meanwhile, it appears that Usman’s former coach Hooft has removed himself from the fight altogether and will not be cornering Burns.
“Our main coach, Henri Hooft, he stepped out,” Burns told ESPN’s Phil Murphy. “He said, ‘I don’t want to go either way. I don’t want to pick a side. You guys train. I’ll be here at the gym. If you want to train here, we can train. But I’m not going to the fight.’
“For me, it doesn’t change too much. It’s just a little weird to fight Kamaru. I really like the guy a lot. We’ve trained together since 2012 or 2013, so we’ve put a lot of time together.”
Check out the full UFC 251 card announced for Fight Island below.
Full UFC 251: Usman vs. Burns fight card on Fight Island as announced
UFC Welterweight Championship: Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Gilbert Burns
UFC Featherweight Championship: Alexander Volkanovski (c) vs. Max Holloway
UFC Bantamweight Championship: Petr Yan vs. José Aldo
Women’s Strawweight: Jéssica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas
Women’s Flyweight: Amanda Ribas vs. Paige VanZant
Light Heavyweight: Volkan Oezdemir vs. Jiří Procházka
Welterweight: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Muslim Salikhov
Featherweight: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Danny Henry
Lightweight: Leonardo Santos vs. Roman Bogatov
Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura vs. Alexander Romanov
Flyweight: Raulian Paiva vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Women’s Bantamweight: Karol Rosa vs. Vanessa Melo
Bantamweight: Davey Grant vs. Martin Day
Card subject to change