In the end, Kamaru Usman defeated Jorge Masvidal via unanimous decision to officially christen the UFC’s four-event series on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Masvidal replaced Burns, who was forced out of his opportunity to fight for a world championship after testing positive for COVID-19 nearly two weeks ago.
After 25 minutes of action on Saturday night, “Durinho” was relieved the fight between Usman and Masvidal went the way he expected it to go.
“I was very happy with the result of the fight,” Burns told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “It couldn’t have gone any better. I knew the fight was going down that way, that it would be boring, but I had Kamaru winning by decision (heading in).”
It was a heartbreaking several days for Burns having to drive back to Florida from Las Vegas following the findings. As the soon-to-be 34-year-old was seeing a closer look of the country than he wanted to, Burns was able to use that time for reflection.
When the title bout ended to cap off UFC 251, the positivity and the way he handled the situation seems to have paid off in spades.
“It was a hard pill to swallow, but I believe God has a plan for me,” Burns explained. “I just spoke with Dana White on Sunday and he said I’m next. He wants to see that fight: Burns vs. Usman. That’s the next fight.
“It was all for the best. I wasn’t feeling good and that was the only reason they took that title fight from me.”
Masvidal was able to fight for his first UFC title on just six days’ notice and was able to build a huge amount of anticipation for the event. “Gamebred” was coming off of one of the most impactful years in the history of the sport following finishes of Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz to become the “BMF” champion, as well as one of the biggest stars in the sport.
Heading into the fight, Masvidal said in an interview with ESPN that had he defeated Usman, his short list of challengers were Diaz and Stephen Thompson—the last fighter to defeat him prior to Saturday night.
To say Burns was thrilled that didn’t happen would be an understatement.
“I was like, ‘Man, that guy can’t win,’” Burns explained. “I believed—even if both guys had a full training camp—that Kamaru would beat him. It would be the same.
“If you’re just a striker, he’s gonna take you down, he’s gonna hold you down, beat you down and make you tired. That’s just Kamaru, but I was hoping Kamaru would win. I didn’t want any surprises.
“I have nothing against Masvidal. There’s guys in the division I want to fight, but it’s not personal. I like the guy as a fan, I would pay to watch the guy, too. I have nothing against the guy, but for sure I wanted Kamaru to win because, otherwise, Nate Diaz would be jumping on the opportunity, or maybe ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, who knows. That would’ve been messed up for the division.”
“Now, it is what it is. Kamaru is gonna take his time off, I’m gonna take my time off and as soon as he says he’s good, we’re gonna go in there and fight for the title.”
Since UFC 251 came to a conclusion, the MMA community has been discussing what should be next for Usman following his second title defense, and 12th straight octagon victory. Most people, including Dana White, believe Burns is undoubtedly the next guy since it was his pen that had hit paper before Masvidal.
However, fellow contender Leon Edwards—riding an impressive eight-fight winning streak—spoke with MMA Fighting recently trying to stake his claim for the shot.
Burns agrees that Edwards’ resume is impressive, but scoffs at the idea that “Rocky” should jump the queue.
“I’m just fighting for the belt,” Usman stated. “I’m in recovery, the champ is in recovery. We’re gonna fight soon. That’s next. The boss already told me I’m next.
“Let’s make it one thing here: My birthday is July 20, and it’s going to be Leon’s anniversary, one year without fighting. C’mon, we can’t blame one year on the pandemic. When did it start? March. What was this guy doing from July through March? “Since his fight, I’ve fought four times.
“I agree, he’s won eight fights (in a row). He beat two of my guys. Luque, that was in 1999, I think. That was so long ago. Then he fought RDA on my birthday last year. I’ve fought four times, almost five. You can’t blame it on the pandemic. He fights once or twice a year.
“So, here’s what I can’t get in my mind: he was supposed to fight Woodley. I went in there and fought Woodley, dominated him the way that I did, and then he gets a title shot? Because I beat the guy that he was supposed to beat? I make the effort, I did the work, and he gets the reward? C’mon, bro. Those people are going crazy. I’m next. Take that three piece and a soda back. I’m from Rio, I would take that three piece and soda back, 100-percent. I would want to finish that business first.”
Others have also suggested that Burns and Edwards should fight each other to clear up any potential controversy on who is the division’s top title contender. If there’s one fighter who is game enough to put his near-guaranteed championship opportunity on the line to stay active, it would be Burns.
When it comes down to it, weighing the pros and cons, Burns doesn’t see the value in doing that whatsoever.
“Remember that big bag of coins? Even the emoji with the big [dollar sign],” Burns explained. “If I wait for the fight with Kamaru, I’m gonna make five or six bags of coins, and fight for the title. If I fight Leon Edwards, I get one bag of coins. If I win, I get another bag. Let me ask you? Do you wait for the six bags and fight for the title, or do you go for the one bag?
“If I fight again, let’s say I go crazy and say yes to a Leon fight in September, beat him then Kamaru says, ‘I’m ready, let’s fight for the title,’ then I would have to go through another camp for another five-round fight. I’m gonna be killing my body. Best scenario is for me to rest, take two to three more weeks off with my family, recover my body, and when Kamaru’s ready, we’ll fight for the belt?”
More importantly than fighting, wins and losses, and title shots, Burns needs to focus on his health as he recovers from COVID-19. The No. 1 ranked 170-pounder in the world is excited to get back to work, but he’s not quite there. After a hectic year going from switching weight classed, and going from unranked to the next title challenger, Burns is happy to listen to the experts.
“I feel better than I did a couple of weeks ago,” Burns said. “I don’t have any more headaches but my body still feels a little weak from the recovery. I’m not 100 percent. I talked to my doctor, my nutritionist, all my team and they asked me to take two more weeks to try and recover.
“At the end of the day, I did three camps and it’s still July. I had two fights, but I had three hard training camps. I just need a little more recovery, come back slowly but I’m 80, 85 percent getting better.”