Herbert Burns will finally return to MMA on Friday, taking on Aibek Nurseit at Titan FC 51 in Kazakhstan, and decided to open up for the first time about his troubled relationship and exit from Asian promotion ONE Championship.
“The Blaze”, brother of UFC lightweight Gilbert Burns, signed with ONE in 2013 as a 1-0 prospect and went on to win five in a row in less than two years. At 6-0, he was expected to get a shot at the featherweight belt next, but says that his decision to leave Evolve MMA gym ruined his relationship with the promotion.
Evolve MMA was founded by Chatri Sityodtong, who is also the founder and CEO of ONE Championship. Burns did most of his training at the gym in Asia, but decided to find another home for his camps following his win over Timofey Nastyukhin in Sept. 2015.
”The situation was quite weird,” Burns told MMA Fighting. “After I got my fifth straight victory, everybody expected me to fight for the belt, that was agreed already, and then I spent almost two years sidelined, they changed the weight classes and I had to fight at 155 pounds, which wasn’t an advantage for me. It’s complicated.
”I don’t want to say negative things about other people because that’s not who I am, but their weight cutting situation isn’t much… There’s no athletic commission overseeing it, so it’s not well regulated, let’s put it this way.”
Burns would only return to the cages 17 months later, losing a decision to unbeaten Movlid Khaibulaev. Later that year, the Brazilian lost to Magomed Idrisov. Both Russians never fought for ONE Championship again.
”I didn’t feel well after almost two years away,” Burns said. “When I came back, they gave me two opponents with different fighting styles. I wasn’t 100 percent physically, but I needed the money. Two years away, two years without getting paid, I was in a delicate situation, so I had to fight without being 100 percent twice. In hindsight, I’ve learned many things.”
Burns says he was put on the shelf for more than a year as a retaliation for deciding to leave Evolve MMA.
”For sure, that’s exactly it, but life goes on,” Burns said. “I spoke with the Evolve founder (Sityodtong) when I left (the team) and — apparently — everything was fine. I was going to fight for the belt, he congratulated me for the win. I came back home and kept training. For two years, they kept saying ‘you’ll fight at this month or that month,’ but the contract never came. I was always hopeful that I would fight, and that’s what bled me financially and forced me to fight for the money.”
For Burns, local media in Asia — and MMA media overall — don’t cover enough the fact that ONE Championship and Evolve MMA are owned by the same person, and that’s an issue.
”ONE Championship is a big promotion in Asia, but they don’t have much coverage in the U.S. and in Brazil yet,” Burns said. “They control the local media really well (in Asia), so it’s hard to talk about it. That’s the truth, they have a control over the Asian media and no one will talk about it.”
ONE Championship did not respond a request for comments.
“The Blaze” spent the last year competing in jiu-jitsu and grappling tournaments in the United States, and decided to make his comeback to mixed martial arts when a good offer came. He admits his pay is “significantly” lower in Titan FC compared to what ONE Championship was paying him, but he doesn’t regret leaving the Asian company.
”When Titan came with an offer, it was lower than ONE Championship’s, for sure, but I think I have to take one step back before walking two or three steps forward,” Burns said. “ONE Championship made an offer that was good financially, but I wasn’t fighting I didn’t have a good relationship with the promotion, but that won’t happen with Titan. I’ll stay active, and that’s what I want.”
Titan FC events air on UFC Fight Pass so the possibility of being seen by UFC matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard, and maybe joining his brother on the UFC roster in the future, convinced him to sign the deal.
After a long camp with the likes of Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler and coach Henry Hooft, Burns feels ready to return to the win column. The Brazilian was originally booked against Luis Gomez in a featherweight contest, but had his opponent changed on days’ notice.
”I’m super well-trained, so I didn’t think twice,” said Burns, who faces Aibek Nurseit in a lightweight contest. “Luis Gomez couldn’t get a visa to enter the country and that’s a pity because it was going to be a war, but I’m focused on Nurseit now. Let’s finish this fight. He should be aggressive because he’s fighting in his home country and has nothing to lose, but I will impose my game and finish him. The only thing that changed for me was the name of the victim.”