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Belal Muhammad: After I beat Gilbert Burns at UFC 288, ‘if you don’t give me my respect, you’re just a hater’

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UFC 280: Muhammad v Brady
Belal Muhammad
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

By just about every possible metric available, Belal Muhammad should be the No. 1 contender in the welterweight division.

He’s riding a nine-fight unbeaten streak with his last four wins all coming against ranked opponents, including a stunning knockout of highly-touted prospect Sean Brady in his most recent outing. Muhammad also has the second-longest win streak in the division, behind only reigning UFC champion Leon Edwards.

Despite all of that, Muhammad — currently No. 6 at 170 pounds in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — seemingly wasn’t even in consideration for a title shot after Edwards vanquished ex-champion Kamaru Usman in their trilogy bout this past March, with UFC President Dana White quickly announcing that opportunity will go to Colby Covington instead. Muhammad was understandably irate, but after lodging several very public complaints, he decided to just let it all go and get back to work.

That’s how Muhammad came to the decision to face Gilbert Burns in UFC 288’s co-main event on just two weeks’ notice. Rather than shouting the loudest about what he deserves or what he’s already earned, Muhammad opted to let his résumé speak for itself.

“This is the fight where the fans will say it for me,” Muhammad explained on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I’ve had so many people come to my defense — ‘How are you going to pass up this guy?’ — and I’m always appreciative of all the fans and the people that got my back. But I was sitting there and I’m like, ‘I’m not going to say anything.’ I [decided to start] calling for the next-best guy. I’m calling for Kamaru Usman, waiting to see if that fight happens. I’m calling to see if Gilbert wants to fight. I’m calling to see if Colby wants to fight.

“I knew my road would be the hardest road. I knew that nothing would ever be given to me. I knew that I wasn’t going to be the guy they were going to give me one fight and then I would get the title. I knew I was going to have to climb this ladder and claw my way to the top — and even still climbing to the top with bleeding fingernails, they’re still not going to give it to me. I have to go out there and take it.”

After blasting Covington for allegedly turning down several fights against him, Muhammad essentially refused to address the always outspoken welterweight contender in his conversation with MMA Fighting after accepting the matchup with Burns on Saturday.

Muhammad is letting go of the anger and frustration over Covington receiving the next title shot and instead keeping his full attention on his own career, which is all he can really control anyway.

In fact, Muhammad offered to step into the co-main event at UFC 288 without any promised concessions from the promotion.

“I’m doing it because I want [the fans] to remember me,” Muhammad said. “Like, ‘This guy stepped up, he’s a legend and he did it without asking for anything extra.’

“I don’t need the flowers. I want to just do it because at the end of day, you want to be remembered as a legend, and I think coming out there, winning this fight, that’s what legends are made of.”

It’s not often that a pair of top 10 ranked fighters step into a short notice fight like UFC 288, especially knowing that a loss could erase any chance at competing for UFC gold in the near future.

Muhammad decided to take it one step further when he made his one request for the fight: He wanted five rounds to work, a wish that was granted and accepted by Burns as well.

Considering that he wasn’t in a training camp — or even weeks removed from a fight like his opponent — Muhammad had every reason to pass on competing at UFC 288, but he feels like the greatest risk possible should also grant him the best reward.

“I know I’m the best all-around fighter in the welterweight division,” Muhammad said. “For me, it’s going in there and keep proving myself. It’s going in there and just showing the world, well, you have an excuse for this or an excuse for this, this guy lost due to this or due to that, but I’m the guy getting off the couch on two weeks’ [notice]. I’m the one stepping up on two weeks’ notice. I’m the one that didn’t just have a full camp.

“There’s no excuses after I win this fight. There is nothing else you can say. Nothing else you can bring up or lie about. I win this fight, if you don’t give me my respect, you’re just a hater.”

Listen to new episodes of The Fighter vs. The Writer every Tuesday with audio only versions of the podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and Stitcher

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