Gilbert Burns is always looking to add new wrinkles to his preparation ahead of fights, and his decision to hire a scout to watch tape and scrutinize opponents is paying dividends.
Burns, who faces Jorge Masvidal in the co-main event of UFC 287 this Saturday in Miami, said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca that hiring striking coach Daniel Mendes to do “scouting” work ahead of his fights over the past few years has helped him understand Masvidal better.
“He sends me a lot of numbers, especially for a guy like Masvidal who has 51 fights. There’s a lot of tape for him to watch,” Burns said. “There are many habits he won’t change. He can get better here or there, he can change something here, but he won’t change everything completely overnight, so you can see his tendencies.
“You can see how he defends takedowns. Demian [Maia] took him down this way, Colby [Covington] took him down that way, Kamaru [Usman] took him down like this. But those three guys are on another level. Most people tried and couldn’t take him down. Michael Chiesa shot well for a takedown but ended up on bottom and got submitted. It’s good to have those numbers and those tendencies, you know? Like, ‘He does this well, so I won’t waste any energy there.’ That helps in the strategy.”
Taking Masvidal down is no easy task. “Gamebred” has defended 83 of 116 takedown attempts in 21 octagon appearances, which includes bouts against high-level wrestlers and grapplers.
“He has good defense on the ground, but his strongest game is his striking. He has good knee, good kicks,” Burns said. “He’s smarter than people think. He has good takedown defense. The Abu Dhabi fight, when he replaced me against Kamaru, was boring because he defended the takedowns. Kamaru couldn’t take him down.”
Burns initially hired a scout for the Olivier Aubin-Mercier fight in 2018, right after the first knockout defeat of his career at the hands of Dan Hooker, and won via decision. “Durinho” is 8-2 since the Hooker setback, losing only to then-champion Kamaru Usman and rising contender Khamzat Chimaev. Burns loved the results of Mendes’ work so much that he asked the coach to break down his own fights and find his own flaws.
“We’re working on changing that because I have many tendencies as well,” Burns said, laughing. “Daniel really does great scouting, and I was shocked. I did so many things wrong. He has a study of the Neil Magny fight and I did five things wrong during that fight, before we went to the ground. I didn’t notice that — and we only strayed on the feet for a minute and a half.”
“I liked this evolution, it makes you know yourself and change bad habits to get better, but it’s not for everyone,” he continued. “Some people don’t have their ego under control for that, instead of saying, ‘Wow, I’m doing all that [wrong]? I’ll start working now.’ Daniel did that with me, and there’s the pre-Khamzat and post-Khamzat ‘Durinho,’ and people will start to feel the difference now in terms of defense and movement now.”
Burns doesn’t want to give away too much ahead of the UFC 287 clash with Masvidal, but sees a clear road to victory.
“I think the best path is taking him down and working on ground-and-pound and submissions,” he said, “but knowing he has good takedown defense, I’ve worked on some attacks. And there’s plan B. In case he survives, he will be tired and his reflexes his diminish. If I can’t execute what I want, that will mean he’s done a great job, and doing that great job takes a toll on you. Second and third rounds, I think I’ll see a lot of openings on the feet, the fight becomes less dangerous [on the feet].”
The Florida-based Brazilian expects to be in “hostile” territory at UFC 287 since Masvidal is a Miami-born fighter with Cuban roots.
“We’ll be in Cuba,” Burns said with a laugh. “He’ll be at home. Everybody will be there. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I’m expecting, but I’m expecting the worst. Really hostile. But the good thing about the MMA crowd is that it turns sides a lot. I knock him down or do something good and you steal the crowd, but it will be hostile at first.”