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Gilbert Burns on going from near-washout to contender after UFC on ESPN 9: ‘I think it’s just a process’

It wasn’t one thing that UFC welterweight Gilbert Burns changed to turn around his career after his octagon career nearly came to an end.

Instead, it was many things the Brazilian veteran put together to get to where he is today, a top contender who may have a title shot in his future after soundly beating ex-champ Tyron Woodley at UFC on ESPN 9.

Burns changed MMA coaches. He hired a mental coach. But after a must-win against Jason Saggo, he started getting back to one of his first loves, jiu-jitsu.

“I was falling in love with striking, and I was just doing striking,” he told reporters after his key win at UFC APEX in Las Vegas. “In the beginning, it was too easy taking guys down, and I got in my comfort zone, and I’ve got to do more standup. And I missed the timing of takedowns and jiu-jitsu. I realized that’s my roots, and I need to come back. And I started competing in jiu-jitsu and training more, and I think that was the key.

“As soon as I got back to jiu-jitsu, everything started clicking. The takedowns were there. The striking was there.”

Burns’ path back to the top wasn’t linear. There was another setback in the form of lightweight Dan Hooker, who stopped him via knockout at UFC 226 in 2018.

“I always get too pumped up for the fight, I rock the guy a little bit, I was going forward, crazy, and I learned that,” he said.

Burns rebounded with another pair of wins at 155 pounds before he decided to move to welterweight, and then things really started to click.

“I think it’s just a process,” he continued. “After I stopped with the crazy weight cut, I started performing a lot better.”

In his previous three fights, Burns has taken out Gunnar Nelson, Demian Maia and Woodley. Former two-division champ and UFC commentator Daniel Cormier argued on air after UFC on ESPN 9 that the welterweight standout’s resume warrants a title shot. Fellow ex-champ and commentator Michael Bisping didn’t entirely disagree, though he favored British welterweight Leon Edwards, who’s won his past eight.

Burns isn’t laying down an ultimatum for the title shot and is happy for whatever happens next. If it’s a title shot, that puts him directly in the path of one of his main training partners, welterweight champ Kamaru Usman. He hasn’t figured out how that’s going to work out.

“It’s going to be weird,” he said. “But we’re both professionals. I like the guy a lot. He motivated me a lot when he became champion. I saw him at zero. We grappled a lot since the beginning. It will be weird, but I want to fight for the title and be the champion. He’s the champion, and that’s the only reason I would call for the fight. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make any sense. I know it might be [Jorge] Masvidal and all that craziness, but I told [UFC President] Dana [White], I’m available for July.

“If you book another guy for the title, give me who’s available. If it’s not Colby [Covington], give me Leon Edwards. I just want to stay busy.”

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