Sanford MMA fighter Gilbert Burns will be taking on welterweight champion Kamaru Usman on Feb. 13 in Las Vegas in the main event of UFC 258, a bout that presents fans of the sport with several compelling reasons to pay attention.
It would be interesting on its own to pair the reigning world champ against the top contender but when you consider that Burns and Usman have spent a lot of time in the same gym the last few years, it adds a whole new layer of intrigue.
Both have built up their careers with strong contributions from Sanford MMA via its training facilities, coaches and medical support.
Burns, the challenger, continued to train at the team’s facility in Deerfield Beach, Florida, in preparation for the bout. Usman, meanwhile, prepared in Denver after deciding he should not train in the same camp as his upcoming opponent.
The fight was originally scheduled to take place in July, but was postponed because Burns contracted COVID-19. In December, Usman postponed it again to recover from an injury.
But now it’s time to go. Usman is 19-1 in UFC and has successfully defended his title twice since winning it in March of 2019. Burns (19-3) is riding a six-fight win streak, including two victories in early 2020 that set him up for a title bout against Usman.
Understandably, a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that they know each other both as people and fighters. Ultimately, it says a lot about the quality of the Sanford MMA enterprise regardless of the outcome.
“I know him very well, but on the other hand, he knows me very well, too,” said Burns, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and was a world jiu-jitsu champion prior to becoming an MMA competitor.
“It’s a little different, that’s for sure. But I’m not seeing a friend or a teammate. I’m seeing an opponent in front of me on Feb. 13. I’m going to do what I always do — I’m going to try to finish what I started.”
In either case, the support of the Sanford team has meant a ton to Burns, who has not lost since July of 2018. Yes, when you’re in the cage, you’re all alone out there, but leading up to that point has been a team effort for Burns during his emergence as a UFC title contender.
Team vital as UFC fight awaits
“You need a good coach and you need good teammates, especially for a fight like this,” Burns said. “My opponent was there training with us for a long time. Now my teammates can help me prepare for someone who they’re very familiar with, too. It’s been amazing to have all the support of my teammates. MMA is a warrior sport — it’s just you and your opponent — but you need good coaches, good teammates and energy around you when you’re training.”
Burns has been competing professionally since 2012. For MMA fighters who have successfully made a career of it, there is always going to be the next bout. The challenge is to get to that next fight better than you were in the last one.
“I look back on my career and I’m better in every way now,” Burns said. “I’m better financially, I’m better technically, I’m better mentally. A lot of things have happened along the way and I’m thankful I have learned a lot of lessons.”
Burns was frustrated by the delays that postponed the bout for six months but has used that time productively. It is more proof that he’s still on his way up.
“Five years ago, dealing with all of this would have been much harder for me,” he said. “If I didn’t know I had all this Sanford team support and all the family support, it would have tough. But I’m in a good place mentally, physically and spiritually — all areas of my life. I’m doing all the things champions are supposed to do.”
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