Gilbert Burns understands the excruciating pain of defeat. But perhaps more importantly, he knows how to put that suffering to good use.
A decade before he was a UFC title challenger, the Brazilian was considered one of the top grapplers in the world. Then, as a black belt, he came up short in his first bid to claim a gold medal at the prestigious World Jiu-Jitsu Championships. He returned one year later to win his category in no-gi competition before taking home gold in 2011.
It was a valuable lesson for Burns, and one he recalls now that he’s walking a similar path after coming up short in his first bid to become UFC champion.
Rather than sulk in the misery of a tough defeat to former teammate Kamaru Usman at UFC 258, Burns returned home and immediately began breaking down film to see where he went wrong and what ultimately led to his downfall that night.
“I think I did very good in the beginning, but for sure, the same thought that I had in the interview after the fight, I was over excited,” Burns explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I had a lot of feelings in me, I thought I’d be able to control that until I knew I wasn’t in control. Another big mistake was going into the break between the first and second round, I was trying to figure what I was going to do, and I was hoping to get something close to the Henri Hooft voice, and he wasn’t there.
“I was hoping for that, get a voice for one of the corners that would be close to that, and in the meantime, I was supposed to take in my deep breath and recover, and I didn’t do that. I was thinking of the next step. As soon as I was back in the second round, I realized oh sh*t, I didn’t recover, I wasn’t thinking and putting my heart rate down. That was a busy week. No excuses. I lost, but I had a lot of things going on in my head. It was hard to focus, and I paid a price in the fight.”
Burns was without his head coach Henri Hooft, who opted to sit out after working with Usman for a huge part of his career prior to Usman’s split from the team.
While Burns had every faith in the people who cornered him, he admits now that there was a certain influence that Hooft exerted that he sorely missed that night.
“I thought I had that figured out,” Burns said. “When the first round was like that, I won that first round, and I was feeling that I was going [off] the trail a little bit, I need a guy like Henri Hooft to put on back on the trail and make sure I give the best of my abilities. I thought I had that figured out, but I was wrong.
“I know I can do it. That’s the main thing. I did a couple of mistakes. I overloaded the punch. I got super excited. That was a lot of emotions on that fight, and that was a mistake. When I go into a fight, I’ve got to be with a clean mind. That’s the difference between the champion and the No. 1, No. 2 contender — the ability to make decisions. I wasn’t able to make the right decision, and Kamaru was able to make the right decision, and that’s it.”
In the aftermath of his loss, Burns wasted no time looking ahead at the welterweight division to determine the best possible route back to Usman and the championship.
He still has to serve a medical suspension as a result of his TKO loss. But ideally, “Durinho” would like to get back in action by late spring or early summer, and he already has designs on a perfect opponent.
“I got suspended 45 days, they ran all the tests on me backstage and the doctors said I was good,” Burns said. “I had no headache, nothing. I’m good. So March 1 I’m going to see the doctor. After that, we will see. I believe I’ll be good to go by May, maybe June. That’s the date that I’m looking for.
“No. 1 on my list until that fight doesn’t happen is Colby Covington. He’s the No. 1 guy on my list.”
Covington is coming off a win over former champion Tyron Woodley, who Burns defeated prior to that fight in order to secure his title shot opportunity.
It appeared Covington was on a collision course with former teammate Jorge Masvidal, but those plans may have fallen apart in recent weeks. As the UFC was seeking a deal for a fight, there were also talks about plugging in Covington and Masvidal as coaches for the relaunch of The Ultimate Fighter later this year.
Usman, though, made it clear that he had unfinished business with Masvidal after they first met at UFC 251 in a fight that came together on just six days’ notice. With a chance to fight for the title again and rectify a past loss, Masvidal understandably opted to turn his attention to the champ.
That leaves former interim champion Covington without an opponent, and Burns would be more than happy to accept that fight. He’s also ready for other potential challenges if that’s what it takes to get back to a rematch with Usman.
“By the ranks, it’s got to be [Stephen] ‘Wonderboy’ [Thompson] No. 2 and Michael Chiesa,” Burns said about his options after Covington. “Those three guys I’m looking forward to fight. I don’t care the order. If they say ‘Gilbert, who do you want?’ It would be Colby, but if he’s not available, then ‘Wonderboy.’ If he’s not available, then Michael Chiesa. If he’s not available, then the next guy available.
“I just want to get back in there. For sure I’ve got to be safe, I can’t go out there next week because I’m suspended, and I’m going to respect that, but I want to get back as soon as I can. As soon as possible. People talk whatever they want to talk but a couple guys back it up. I’m here to make a difference. I want to fight everybody in that division.”
Burns gives credit to Usman for a job well done in their fight. But that only serves as additional motivation to earn another shot at him in the future.
Whether that takes a single win over Covington, or stringing together another series of victories against all of the top fighters at welterweight, Burns is ready to get to work.
“I will do four [wins] if I have to – I never had an easy path,” Burns said. “I felt that pain before in jiu-jitsu. I’m a hard worker. I’m going to work hard to get that rematch with Kamaru Usman. Whatever it takes.”