Michael Chiesa will be paying close attention to the main event this Saturday night.
With the welterweight title on the line, Kamaru Usman will defend his championship against the top contender and former teammate Gilbert Burns to cap off UFC 258. The event takes place at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Chiesa, the current sixth-ranked welterweight in the UFC, is coming off of a dominant unanimous decision win over Neil Magny in the headliner of UFC Fight Island 8 this past month. “Maverick” has won his last four fights since moving up to the welterweight division and has his sights set on matchups with Colby Covington and Stephen Thompson following his first main event win in Abu Dhabi.
While Chiesa has great respect for everybody in his division, Burns is on a different level. In a May 2020 interview with MMA Fighting prior to Burns’ unanimous decision win over Tyron Woodley at UFC on ESPN 9, Chiesa predicted that when fans look back on his career when it’s all said and done, Burns could end up being his “greatest rival” from a competitive perspective.
With Burns getting ready to challenge for his first UFC title on Saturday, Chiesa still believes that to be a strong possibility down the road if he continues to pick up victories.
“I’ll tell you what, me and Gilbert Burns would be a hell of a fight,” Chiesa told MMA Fighting while appearing on a recent edition of What the Heck. “That guy next to Colby, those would be my two toughest matchups I feel like. Burns has such good jiu-jitsu, it’s insane. If you watch his gi jiu-jitsu matches, it’s violent. And everywhere a fight goes he is just violent, high pace, hits hard, very well coached because [if you get matched up with] anyone from Sanford MMA, you’re in for a tough ass fight.”
Usman has been literally unbeatable in the UFC’s welterweight division and, in fact, hasn’t tasted defeat since his second professional fight where he was submitted by Jose Caceres—the older brother of UFC featherweight Alex Caceres—on the regional scene in May 2013.
The season 21 winner of The Ultimate Fighter, “The Nigerian Nightmare” was victorious in his first nine octagon appearances to set himself up for a title shot against Tyron Woodley at UFC 235. Usman dominated Woodley to capture the title, then went on to stop Colby Covington in the fifth round at UFC 245, and earned a decision win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251 in July.
Usman and Burns were both pivotal in each other’s rises up the welterweight ranks while they were training partners at Sanford MMA. In a 2020 interview with MMA Fighting, Burns credited Usman for assisting in his preparation for his TKO win over Demian Maia at UFC Brasilia in March 2020—who Usman had also defeated on the way to the title.
While they aren’t officially teammates any longer, Chiesa still believes that is a very important piece to the championship bout’s storyline.
“When it comes to this matchup, Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns, I feel like you never see these teammate vs. teammate fights and I still have it billed as that,” Chiesa said. “Usman went on to train in Denver under the tutelage of Trevor Wittman, but Gilbert is just so dynamic. He can knock you out, he can submit you. He’s a true dual threat. He can really do it all.
“With Usman, he’s solid, he can take a shot and he has championship level experience. He’s been a very dominant welterweight champion and I feel like [if he can get] this win over Burns, it could put him over the top as arguably one of the greatest welterweight champions we’ve ever seen.”
Like Chiesa, Burns has made a successful transition from 155 to 170. “Durinho” has won six stright, including all four of his welterweight victories over Alexey Kunchenko, Gunnar Nelson, Maia and Woodley.
When it comes to a prediction for the fight, Chiesa admits there’s some bias attached to it. Either way, he believes the 170-pound version of the challenger will give Usman a very stern test and that the true winners will be the fans who partake in the festivities.
“The one thing that Burns has done—and he did it in his last fight with Tyron Woodley—is he’s shown that he can keep a pace for five rounds,” Chiesa explained. “In the past, and it could’ve been the cut to 155 pounds, he could keep a good pace but there were some fights that he did fade. That is no longer the case now that he’s at welterweight. The guy is an animal. He can train hard, he can bring that ferocity and he can do it from the first minute of the fight until the last second of the fifth round. The guy can push a hard pace.
“I think he’s gonna push Usman to his limit and that’s a hard one to pick. My bias sways towards Gilbert Burns, but I’ll be watching. May the best man win. It’s gonna be a fun fight for us.”