Gilbert Burns knows what it’s like to compete against the best of the best. Since debuting in the UFC in 2014, the one-time title challenger has faced a laundry list of contenders across two divisions, and even fought the sport’s current pound-for-pound No. 1, Kamaru Usman.
“Nothing special,” Burns said flatly at UFC 273 media day. “I think his wrestling is very good, his control and ground-and-pound is good, and the fact that he’s very long helps too so then he gets grips, good control, he knows where to put the weight, very technical, hits hard. But the opponents [he fought] didn’t help as well. Those guys don’t know how to get up, the other ones didn’t know how to wrestle. I don’t know even know, I’ve got to look it [up] — his first two UFC opponents, do you know their name? Anyone? No one knows.
“So those guys, for sure they’re pretty tough, to be in the UFC, but they are not Gilbert Burns. They’re not in the top of this division. So with all due respect — sorry if were one of these guys, no offense — but I’m the top of this division. I give these guys an opportunity. I want to fight him, because I believe he’s very good — I don’t see a monster. I see a human being, confident, a little bit cocky, undefeated, thinks he’s the best or untouchable, but we shall see. We shall see Saturday.”
Even on a card that features two title fights, Burns’ clash with Chimaev is one of the biggest intrigues of UFC 273. The undefeated Chechen has racked up historic numbers through a 4-0 start to his UFC run, outstriking his opposition 254-2 in total strikes and 112-1 in significant strikes while scoring a variety of highlight-reel finishes. Chimaev won his first two UFC bouts in routs against John Phillips and Rhys McKee just 10 days apart, then knocked out Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds and sent Li Jingliang to dreamland with a first-round rear-naked choke this past October to enter into the welterweight rankings.
Through it all, Chimaev has spoken openly about pursuing titles in two divisions, even predicting to MMA Fighting in March that it’ll be easier for him to smash through UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya than it’ll be for him to take the welterweight title.
The hype around Chimaev has reached a point that he is currently listed as high as a 6-to-1 favorite to defeat Burns on some betting lines — and Burns is relishing it all.
“The odds are saying that he’s going to win. Everyone is saying he’s going to win,” Burns said. “He’s getting all the [promotion]. To be honest, it’s a little bit less — it’s still pressure, I’m not going to say no — but it’s a little bit less pressure because that guy is the hype train. He’s supposed to win and fight Adesanya.
“The pressure is on this guy. I’m giving him the opportunity. I’m the No. 2 [ranked welterweight]. He’s got to come and take it.”
While Burns has given ample credit to Chimaev’s skills, that same respect hasn’t been afforded back to him. Chimaev dismissed Burns’ résumé and skill set when asked at UFC 273 media day on Wednesday, instead questioning what Burns has done in the division outside of losing to the champion and beating an “old man” in Demian Maia. Chimaev predicted that he is going “smash” Burns and noted that he doesn’t even consider the Brazilian contender to be toughest challenge he’s faced thus far in his career.
In contrast, Burns said he considers Chimaev to be among the “top five” in terms of his own toughest UFC opposition, but after facing the likes of Usman, Stephen Thompson, Maia, and others in the past, he can’t slot him much higher than that. And when he looks at the stylistic matchup between the two men and the difference in their experience at the highest levels, Burns can’t help but foresee anything but a finish of Chimaev at UFC 273.
“We’re going to see if that guy is real or not,” Burns said. “And I’m here, I’m the guy to test this guy, to stop the hype train, so I like it. I’m here in this position, I asked to be here, and I want to fight the best guys. If he’s one of them, if he’s that beast, that’s the guy that I want to fight.”