When the cage door locks behind UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns at UFC 258, there will be an unusual sense of familiarity between them. Dating back to 2012, Usman and Burns are well-documented training partners with “at least 200 rounds of sparring,” Burns told MMA Junkie. Having trained together for over 7 years, the welterweight combatants have left their friendship on hold to prepare for war on February 13th.

En route to his 3rd title defense, Kamaru Usman has solidified himself as one of the best 170 pounders to ever grace the octagon. Having never lost in the UFC, the “Nigerian Nightmare” continuously adds new layers to an already diverse skill set. He’s developed a striking approach that compliments his endless cardio and relentless grappling. He’s a damn tough night out for anybody, but the 15-fight UFC-veteran Burns steps in riding the momentum of 6 straight wins. With educated knowledge of Usman’s fighting style, does the Brazilian have what it takes to dethrone the champ?

Gilbert Burns

Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Gilbert “Durinho” Burns walks into his first UFC title fight coming off the biggest win of his career over former champion Tyron Woodley. With the promise of a title shot, Burns turned in a dominant performance, winning the bout on all 3 judges’ scorecards. Boasting a record of 19 wins with 3 losses, the 34-year-old jiu-jitsu practitioner has proven effective in all facets of his game. Under head coach Henri Hooft, the Sanford MMA product holds 6 wins by (T)KO along with 8 via submission. Gilbert Burns doesn’t just show up to win, he aggressively pursues the finish.

The Brazilian’s grappling and wrestling skills have been showcased throughout his career, but the improvements he’s made on the feet should not be underestimated. It took Burns just 2 minutes and 34 seconds to knockout UFC legend Demian Maia. He landed 156 of 211 total strikes on Tyron Woodley, hurting him on numerous occasions. Burns possesses a wide path to victory and brings the explosiveness to match Usman’s intensity. “Durinho” consistently attacks with violent intentions, always moving forward.

Kamaru Usman

Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler, and Georges St. Pierre all had successful stints as UFC welterweight champion, but nobody has ever swept through the 170-pound-division like current king Kamaru Usman. Not only has Usman won all 12 UFC contests thus far, he’s prevailed in dominant fashion. Tied for the second longest active win streak in the UFC, the “Nigerian Nightmare” has won 9 bouts by unanimous decision, along with 3 finishes.

Former champions Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Rafael Dos Anjos have all fallen at the hands of Usman. He accepted a dangerous fight on 6 days notice, defeating the “BMF” champion Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251. With a 17-1 overall record and in the prime of his career, Usman’s continued reign atop the welterweight division seems inevitable. 

Possessing unmatched physicality and a variety of tools, Usman’s style as a martial artist is centered around exploiting weaknesses, utilizing brute force and pressure to keep opponents on their heels.

With the frame of a middleweight, the champion has overpowered his opponents with constant forward movement and a diverse striking profile. Usman stripped Woodley of the title with lethal elbows and brutal body work, became the first fighter to (T)KO Covington, and tore Masvidal apart with relentless grappling and foot stomps. It’s no secret Kamaru Usman is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world, but the Nigerian’s success can be credited deeper than punches and kicks. 

A champion’s career blossoms throughout their reign, branching into world-wide fame and riches. However, the root of every fighter’s success is an undying will to win. Despite unjustified criticism for “boring” performances, Usman’s primary goal to get his hand raised has never wavered. We may not see consistent highlight-reel finishes, but one does not become UFC champion on SportsCenter. It takes heart, determination, and a mentality unlike any other. Subtract the bright lights of prizefighting and you’ll find welterweight’s nightmare.

Prediction: Usman by decision

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