Gilbert Burns only real focus between now and Feb. 13 is his showdown against former teammate Kamaru Usman when he will finally compete for the welterweight championship at UFC 258.
That said, the top ranked contender can’t help but look at what else is happening in the division considering a win over Usman will not only make him champion, but will transform him into the most hunted man in the world at 170 pounds.
Much like his recent winning streak, where he was willing to face anyone the UFC put in front of him in order to get to a title shot, Burns’ approach to a championship reign came with the same attitude. Logically, though, there would only be a couple of potential names awaiting the opportunity to face him.
The fight most likely to determine a new No. 1 contender at welterweight will be a rumored matchup between Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal in a clash of former friends turned bitter enemies. As of now, the highly anticipated matchup isn’t finalized, though UFC President Dana White has made it clear that’s the fight the promotion intends on booking.
While Burns has never been a huge fan of Covington’s antics outside the cage, he can’t deny the former interim champion will be a tough fight for anyone in the division but particularly a dynamic striker like Masvidal.
“I lean a lot to the side of Colby Covington,” Burns said when asked for a prediction in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I think Kamaru just showed how you can beat Masvidal, and I think Colby Covington is very smart and he’s just going to out wrestle Masvidal and do maybe better or the same as Kamaru did. I still want to see that fight but I don’t see that it’s going to be a very entertaining fight.
“I think it’s going to be a very kind of boring fight. A lot of control, a lot of wrestling, I think that’s how the fight’s going to go but I still want to see that one. But I’ve got Colby Covington on this one.”
Masvidal lost a decision to Usman this past summer after accepting a short notice title fight after Burns was forced off the card after testing positive for COVID-19. Usman showcased superior control from inside the clinch, as well as a powerful wrestling game that ultimately stifled any attempt Masvidal made to hurt him with strikes.
If Covington beats Masvidal, that will almost certainly earn him a second shot at the UFC title but there are definitely more contenders waiting in the wings.
Michael Chiesa just recently dispatched Neil Magny to remain undefeated at welterweight and breakout superstar Khamzat Chimaev is scheduled to face Leon Edwards in a pivotal matchup at 170 pounds in March.
With an eight fight winning streak on his resume, Edwards could easily argue that he should receive a title shot with a victory. But Burns actually believes Chimaev will spoil those plans.
“I said I did believe Michael Chiesa would beat Neil Magny, and he did it,” Burns said. “He put himself out there. The call out was great, Colby Covington, but I don’t think he will get it. I think the next one for Michael Chiesa could be ‘Wonderboy’ but I do think Khamzat Chimaev will beat Leon Edwards. I think he can do it. I think the wrestling will be the difference and he will do it.
“I’ve been impressed. Nothing crazy, nothing like ‘oh he fought these guys!’ Nothing super impressive with his opponents but he’s been doing a great job. The matchup is bad for [Leon Edwards] there. I think [Chimaev] is very strong and can out wrestle him. I don’t think he’ll destroy him but I think he’ll out wrestle him and make the fight very dirty. And I think he can do it.”
Whether it’s Covington, Masvidal, Chimaev or Edwards next in line, Burns would welcome a fight against any of them once he has that welterweight title strapped around his waist.
“Any one of these guys, to be honest with you. I want to fight every single one of these guys,” Burns said. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do. I believe I’m going to beat Kamaru but worst case scenario if everything goes wrong and I lose I’m going to be fighting again very soon.
“I hope I’m going to win, I’m working very hard for that. I believe in that. But that’s all my next opponents, Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, Khamzat Chimaev, Leon Edwards, [Stephen] “Wonderboy” Thompson, Michael Chiesa, every single one of these guys. These are my next opponents and I can’t wait to fight every single one of these guys.”