Gilbert Burns may be the lone welterweight who doesn’t fault Colby Covington for emerging from the shadows to suddenly become the next No. 1 contender despite not competing for the past year.
It was a surprising turn of events when Dana White declared Covington next in line against UFC champion Leon Edwards despite Covington’s 2-2 record in his past four fights, which include a pair of losses to former 170-pound king Kamaru Usman. White has since doubled down on Covington in subsequent interviews, even with a ready-made contender like Belal Muhammad waiting in the wings with an impressive nine-fight unbeaten streak.
While it would be understandable if Burns was upset given his status in the division, he won’t begrudge Covington for seizing upon the opportunity, although he still hopes an emphatic win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 287 changes the conversation.
“Colby was very smart,” Burns told MMA Fighting. “I’ve got to give credit to this guy. Because one year [on the sidelines], he was supposed to be out of the rankings. He fought Masvidal last March 5, and out of the blue this guy goes there and does the weigh-ins and it’s like, wow, this guy is smart. I’ve got to give it to him. We’ll see what’s next.
“I think I have the opportunity to put doubt in Dana White, all the critics, all the fans, all the media, if I go out there and get a spectacular finish against Masvidal. I can make a case to be the next one for the title. If not 100 percent, you put a lot of doubts — ‘Burns is next.’ That’s in my power now. I’m working on it. I believe I can put a lot of doubts in these guys’ minds with my performance.”
Rather than complain about Covington getting a title shot, Burns just wants his opportunity to potentially change the narrative with his fight against Masvidal.
Deep down, Burns feels as if the UFC might be going quid pro quo with Covington after he filed felony assault charges against Masvidal following the alleged attack between the two that took place in March 2022. With the legal system moving at a slow crawl, Burns wonders if perhaps the UFC struck a deal of their own with Covington to allow the assault case to go away in exchange for a title shot.
Even if his conspiracy theory turns out to be true, Burns won’t get angry if that’s how Covington injected his name in the title fight conversation.
“I don’t hate on Colby,” Burns said. “I don’t think he offered, ‘Hey, let me make weight [as a backup at UFC 286].’ I think something happened with the UFC that, Masvidal and Colby, both can’t fight, so I think it’s a good deal going on with these guys — they drop the charges, something like that. That’s my thought. That’s why they gave the title [fight] to Colby. But I’m not complaining. I never was.
“Nothing was ever, ever given to me. Everything came with a lot of sacrifice, a lot of work, a lot of ups and downs. Way more ups than downs, but a couple of downs too, and I’m not here to complain, ‘Colby did this!’ Yeah, Colby is going to do Colby; I’ve got to do me. Belal Muhammad is crying about it, ‘this guy, that guy,’ or I can just fight my way through. I beat these guys — what now? I’m not a complainer.”
If Burns is going to blame anybody for anything leading into his fight at UFC 287, he actually takes aim at Edwards because of his shared history with Masvidal.
The welterweights memorably had a physical altercation at a 2019 UFC event in London, and Edwards has stated that a Masvidal win at UFC 287 would put “Gamebred” at the top of the champ’s wish-list for potential opponents. That means Burns has to be hyper aware that he’s going to get the best out of Masvidal, especially with the chance to steal away a title shot from Covington hanging in the balance.
“If Masvidal beats me, boom, he’s next,” Burns said. “The biggest fight for Leon, great pay-per-view money for the UFC. Leon made my fight harder now. The guy is mean, he’s going to try to put me out. I remember those two extra punches on Ben Askren. If he puts me out, he’s going to throw that, and that little fear motivates me for the good.
“I’m putting in a crazy amount of work. I know how dangerous he is — 51 fights, great takedown defense, great boxing, great kicks, both stances, he can grapple too, good get-ups. I think the guy is very dangerous. I think people kind of forgot how good and mean this guy is because of the way he lost to Colby and the way he lost to Kamaru, but this guy is mean. I’m going to be on alert for 15 minutes. I’m going to try to finish this guy, hurt him, because I know he’s thinking the same way.”
As much as Covington’s return and his history with Edwards may have Masvidal fired up, Burns promises that he’s just as excited to make a statement at UFC 287.
Burns will never exactly throw caution to the wind, but he’s learned through painful experience that simply winning doesn’t always lead to the best opportunities. Style counts, which is why Burns wants to make his own highlight reel out of Masvidal on Saturday.
“I want to savagely beat these guys,” Burns said. “Because decisions don’t get me nothing. You’re going to get two checks, yeah, that’s nice, but I’m not here to get two checks. I’m here to destroy these guys and be the guy to get this title.
“If I go there and get a decision against Masvidal, I’m going to be freaking mad. I don’t want that. I want to dominate him from the beginning to the end, knock him out, TKO or submission. That’s what I want to do. A decision isn’t going to make me happy.”