An overhand right appeared to be on point for Burns, who continued to land big shots in the opening round of Saturday’s pay-per-view headliner and captured the frame on all three judges’ scorecards.
But as soon as Burns started thinking about a quick finish, he lost sight of a winning strategy that led to Usman’s comeback and subsequent TKO in round three, he told reporters at the post-fight press conference for UFC 258.
“I have so much respect for my guy, Cody Garbrandt ... I just went the same way,” Burns said. “As soon as I saw he was hurt, forget about the strategy. I just went for the kill.”
Garbrandt became synonymous with impatience with a trio of knockout losses that were set in motion by his aggressive fighting style. For Burns, the momentum shift wasn’t so rapid. Instead, it came gradually with the pop-pop-pop of Usman’s fast and accurate jab, which repeatedly caught him as he wound up.
“He stayed disciplined,” Burns said. “He’s not quick. He doesn’t hit that hard. But he’s friggin’ disciplined. And for me, it was the opposite. I got over excited, loaded up on my punches, and that was my mistake.”
With a puffy left eye, Burns could only shake his head at his mistake. It wasn’t the first time he’d made it, either.
“I think I made the same mistake when I fought Dan Hooker,” he said. “To become a champion, I cannot make those mistakes.”
Leading into the fight, much was made about Usman and Burns’ previous relationship as training partners. Burns said it didn’t make much of a difference in what happened in the octagon; he just saw Usman as a face as they fought. He brushed off an interview from Usman where the champ accused him of trying to take food off his children’s table as a personal pep talk.
“C’mon, bro,” Burns said. “I know he just made that to get a little angry. I love his family. I even pay for his school if he needs. But I just wanted to become a champion, and I failed. But it’s all on me.”
Burns wept openly in the wake of his knockout loss, which came just 34 seconds into the third round after Usman thumped him with several punches as he lay on his back after hitting the canvas on a jab. The former teammates shared an intimate moment after Usman celebrated.
“He just [said to] me, ‘I like you so much, sp keep working. You’re the hardest fight I ever had,’” Burns said of the exchange. “I said, ‘I like you so much, too.’ I just want to become champion.”
The key to that, Burns hopes, is a quick turnaround and a resolution to take his time in the cage.
“The way I see it right now, I just want to do it like Robbie Lawler,” said Burns, who earned his title shot with six straight wins including a rout of ex-champ Tyron Woodley. “[Lawler] was the only guy, if I’m not wrong, that lost to Johnny Hendricks and then just got right back, fought again, and became a champion.
“I hope I don’t get a crazy suspension, and I go back and rest, stay with my family a little bit. I just want to fight as quick as I can. I know I can do it, and it was almost done, but I cannot make those mistakes and become a champion.”