His pursuit of the former welterweight champion began a month ago when he offered to replace Leon Edwards opposite Woodley in the main event of the later-cancelled UFC London card on March 21. Edwards was bumped from the headliner when escalating coronavirus concerns prompted the UFC to attempt to move the event from London to tribal lands in Oklahoma.
Even though those alternate plans also fell through, Burns told MMA Fighting that Woodley’s side never committed to accepting Burns as a replacement anyway. The issue could have ended there if it wasn’t for Woodley’s public response, which Burns called into question.
“What happened was the first time in London, he declined the fight and then after the event was canceled, after the president gives the speech and then it was canceled, then he went on social media, ‘Oh, I accepted the fight with Gilbert,’” Burns said on the What The Heck show. “That was a lie. He just asked to get on May 9, this card that’s coming, and he declined again.
“He declined for the April 18 that didn’t happen, that was supposed to happen. He said he wants to get on this card. Sean Shelby, Dana White said the only guy available for you is Gilbert Burns. And they’re all, ‘Let me think about it.’ He got back after a couple of days, ‘We don’t want to fight Gilbert.’”
Regarding the May 9 show, scheduled to be UFC 249 and take place in Jacksonville, Fla., Burns lobbied to fight Woodley on that card, only to be turned down again. “Durinho” insists that he has no issue with fighters giving him a reason why they they can’t just compete any given time, but Woodley’s handling of the situation rubbed him the wrong way.
“I’m okay with guys declining fights,” Burns said. “Like [Michael] Chiesa, he’s a guy that I respect a lot, because he reached out to me, ‘Hey, I want to fight you.’ I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He said, ‘I’m not training, bro, no way I’m gonna fight you right now. I don’t have my training partners.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, no problem, I got it, I understand.’
“But the guy that lies to [your] face, ‘Hey, I’m fighting, I’m in killer mode.’ No, you’re not. You pick and you choose fights. I lost all respect that I had for Tyron Woodley. I had a lot of respect for the guy, he used to be the champion, former champion. He had two title defenses that weren’t fun at all, it was an ugly fight, but the way he beat Darren Till, the way he beat Robbie Lawler, come on, you’ve got to respect the guy. But then he lost, he just do one fight a year, if you take a look, he just fight one time a year. Then he lost and after that he’s just not fighting anymore. Then, come on, the guy comes and says, ‘Hey, please, give me a title fight for my birthday.’ Come on, bro. After that I was like, that guy’s playing around. Give me a title shot for my birthday? That’s crazy. I was like, no respect for this guy anymore. I’m done. I’m done calling him out.”
Burns now finds himself in the difficult position of being in the top-10 while struggling to book a fight with contenders ranked ahead of him. His first-round TKO of two-time UFC title challenger Demian Maia at UFC Brasilia only accentuated what a growing threat he is in the division.
Coronavirus precautions haven’t helped matters as up until this week when the UFC announced three events for May, the majority of the roster has no idea what the schedule for the rest of the year will look like. Whenever the UFC is able to return to a relatively normal schedule, Burns is open to staying busy until the higher-ranked contenders decide to face him.
“I think it’s gonna get to a point where all that coronavirus need to be done and I think if ‘Wonderboy’ [Stephen Thompson], Edwards, Colby [Covington], or Woodley don’t give me an opportunity, I need to fight Chiesa,” Burns said. “Let’s say I beat Chiesa, Woodley and those guys keep stalling the division, I’m gonna friggin’ fight Geoff Neal. Let’s say I beat Geoff Neal—for sure, a lot of respect for these guys, I’m just putting out the best scenario—I beat these two guys and then [the other names] have got to fight me now after those.”
Burns has fought four times in the last 12 months and regularly uses his social media to jump on short-notice opportunities (he’s also recently become a meme factory). He admitted that it can be frustrating to see his efforts go to waste, especially when it comes to getting a fight with Woodley.
Whatever comes next, Burns isn’t going to let his spot in the rankings get in the way of a good fight and he’s even still inviting Woodley to come to him, which he thinks is to the benefit of “The Chosen One” given his veteran status.
“Maybe Tyron Woodley will fight, maybe not,” Woodley said. “I’m done calling this guy out. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m going to beat everybody that they put in front of me. Eventually I’m going to fight Tyron Woodley, I believe that we gonna fight, but I’m just done calling these guys out. If you want to fight, we’ll fight, Leon Edwards, Wonderboy, I’m just gonna give one big callout if any one of these top-5 guys wants to fight, I’m available. … If I need to do the hard path of beating the No. 8, then the No. 10, then the No. 7, then I’m gonna do it and I’m gonna keep doing it and eventually I’m gonna beat these guys.
“And it’s harder for Woodley, because guess what, he’s just turned 38. If he keep ducking everybody, one more year, 39, one more year, 40. Okay, then I’ll fight when you’re 40, I don’t mind. I’d rather fight you right now than fight when you are 40, then you’ll go, ‘Oh, I was old, I was not in my prime.’ I’d rather fight these guys right now.”