Ahead of his showdown with Tyron Woodley at UFC on ESPN 9, Burns definitely understands the lay of the land in the division. A win over a former champion would almost certainly land the Brazilian in the conversation for the next title shot, which would then put him in direct opposition with Usman.
Truth be told, Burns would rather not even think about that possibility right now because Usman has been instrumental in his preparation to get ready for Woodley as well all of his other recent fights in the UFC. Burns considers Usman a close friend and they’ve been teammates for several years, which is why he prefers not to think about a fight between them until it actually becomes a reality.
“He’s helping me for this fight,” Burns said about Usman when speaking to MMA Fighting. “We just sparred three rounds. He’s going to be my main training partner for this fight. I don’t know. Things are going to get weird but I love the guy. I have a lot of admiration for that guy. I don’t want to think about that right now. I need to beat this guy, the former champion, he’s tough and I need to beat this guy first.
“After this, I’m going to call Kamaru and say ‘bro, those sparring sessions are getting the work in now.’ For sure, I’m going to respect him. I love the guy a lot. But I’m going to think about that after I beat Tyron Woodley. I’m sorry Kamaru, we might have to fight cause I want to be the best. But I love the guy a lot. No bad blood. The opposite. I just see Tyron Woodley next. After that, we’ll do what we need to do.”
View this post on Instagram
Having fun today at the wrestling session lead by the champ @usman84kg @tatamifightwear -> @s.e.e.media . . . Sempre aquele clima descontraído durante o treino de wrestling puxado pelo campeão hoje @usman84kg . . . #rarebreed #TeamDurinho #cantstopwontstop #cerradomma #bjj #gilbertburns #hkickboxing #ihp #ufc #ufcbrasil #jiujitsu #nogi #tatamifightwear #burnsbrothers #lovehempuk #fightsportsmiami #sanfordmma
There have been a few occasions in the past where a title fight between teammates has drawn battle lines in the gym.
Rashad Evans and Jon Jones got in a very public war of words after previously training together before they were scheduled to meet with the UFC light heavyweight title going up for grabs. While it wasn’t nearly as nasty, Woodley had to deal with a similar situation when he faced fellow American Top Team member Robbie Lawler for the belt back in 2016.
For his part, Burns doesn’t want any of that to happen with Usman or their gym at Hard Knocks 365 in Florida.
If they are forced to face off, Burns knows it would never be about anything more than competition and he’s never going to say a bad word about Usman just for the sake of hyping a fight.
“It’s business,” Burns said. “We might train together. It might get a little weird but we might train together. He wants to be the best. I want to be the best. We have exactly the same coaches, except for strength and conditioning and jiu-jitsu. We have Henri [Hooft], Kami [Barzini], Greg Jones, same team, same management.
“I’ve been training with him since 2012 or 2013 when I moved to the Blackzilians. I saw his whole career. He saw my whole career. My job is to beat Tyron Woodley. He’s the champion. All the pressure is on me. I need to win and then we’ll see what we’ll do after.”