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Gilbert Burns: ‘Nice guy’ Stephen Thompson ‘wants to spinning kick you in the head,’ so ‘there’s no friendship inside the octagon’

Stephen Thompson may be one of the nicest men to ever enter a cage to fight, but Gilbert Burns won’t treat him any different at UFC 264.

“Durinho” meets “Wonderboy” in the co-main event of Saturday night’s pay-per-view show in Las Vegas in an attempt to bounce back from his first defeat at welterweight, a loss against 170-pound champion Kamaru Usman. He sees Thompson as “one of the toughest opponents I’ll face so far.”

“He seems like a nice guy, but he wants to knock out you, he wants to spinning kick you in the head, he wants to win the fight,” Burns said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “We’ll always have respect, but there’s no friendship inside the octagon, no smiles or fun games. I’m there to knock you out or submit you. Worst case scenario, I want to dominate the entire fight.

“I’ll always respect my opponents, but there will be no high-fives or shaking hands or smiles there. I like hostile environments, to keep it serious. That’s where I fight my best.”

Burns has experienced both types of situations throughout his UFC career. Usman, his most recent opponent, was a training partner for years in Florida. Demian Maia and Gunnar Nelson were the type of opponent where pre-fight verbal war was expected, like his back and forth with former champ Tyron Woodley.

“Every opponent is different,” Burns said. “It doesn’t chance anything for me. You signed a contract … . I have respect, of course. Sometimes the opponent is more cool, sometimes he’s not, but there’s no friendship inside the octagon, only when the fight is over.”

Something unique about the Thompson clash is that Burns cornered his teammate Vicente Luque against “Wonderboy” at UFC 244, when the karate-specialist won a decision at Madison Square Garden. Being so close to a future opponent was “great because you know the guy so much,” but was still heartbreaking to see a friend lose.

“I saw in the Vicente fight that he adjusts so well,” Burns said. “The first round was closer, he adjusted well for the second one, came back better. I could see a lot of things. It helped me understand I needed someone with that fighting style to prepare for this fight. The more information you have about your opponent the better. Art of war.”

After watching Luque lose to Thompson in New York, Burns called decorate striker Raymond Daniels to better prepare for his UFC 264 bout. Daniels is a former kickboxing world champion with a record of 35-3 in the sport and a four-fight winning streak inside the Bellator MMA cage.

Despite all the special preparation on the feet, Thompson told MMA Fighting “I know for a fact” the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace will go for the takedown inside the T-Mobile Arena.

“There’s no way I won’t trade with him, close the distance without trading,” Burns responded. “I think I have to be smarter with my striking. [His reach] is much longer than mine, he’s fast. I’m also fast for this weight class, I don’t believe he’s faster than me. I’ve seen him fighting Vicente, I had a close look, and I didn’t think he was that fast.

“I can say we’ll strike, we’ll do wrestling, we’ll do jiu-jitsu. It’s a MMA fight, right? Everything will happen, we have to be prepared for everything. I think he has to be worried about the takedowns, he should be worried about it, but it’s a MMA fight and I have to be ready for everything.

“He’s a complicated guy to fight, a different style, but I’ve prepared well for him. We’ll win by taking him out of the comfort zone, not letting him find his distance, and using the tools I have. We’ll win by making him uncomfortable the entire fight.”

Ranked No. 3 in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, “Durinho” knows he has “a lot of work to do” to secure another shot at the welterweight gold because “it’s always harder to get a second chance for the belt,” but is confident that performances trumps long winning streaks in the UFC.

“There’s no perfect amount of wins,” said the Brazilian. “Look at Leon Edwards. He’s won 10 in a row and hasn’t fought for a belt yet, and I think it’s because of his performances. He hasn’t gotten a performance that was like, ‘Wow, brother.’ It’s a lot of decisions. I believe performances [are more important] today.

“I’m focused on the fight against ‘Wonderboy,’ I wanna go in there and do my best and secure the win, and then we’ll think about the next step. The only thing I’m focused now is getting in there on July 10 and giving my all.”

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