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Jon Anik on stakes of Gilbert Burns vs. Belal Muhammad: ‘I’m not sure in this fight that the loser loses a whole lot’

The stakes seem quite high in the welterweight co-main event of Saturday’s UFC pay-per-view, and while the winner between Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad moves to the top of the contenders’ line, Jon Anik believes the loser won’t take a major step back.

Burns and Muhammad compete in a five-round matchup, which was put together on less than three weeks’ notice, at UFC 288 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Anik calls the action, alongside Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier, and was asked prior to the matchup what the road to a title shot will look like to the man who doesn’t get his hand raised.

“Not as long as you think,” Anik told MMA Fighting. “I do think that both of these guys are sort of willing to play the long game, even if that’s three or four years right now to make one or two more runs to be the welterweight contender.

“Now, it is public knowledge that the UFC wanted to set up a fight between Belal Muhammad and Shavkat Rakhmonov, so let’s just say that Belal loses as a betting underdog to Gilbert Burns, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he finds himself in a main event against the 17-0, with 17 finishes Shavkat Rakhmonov this summer, which candidly, if he knew that fight would have earned him a title fight, he would have accepted that fight in a minute, right? So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that that fight still happens, and in that scenario, I’m not sure that Belal loses a whole lot and could find himself expeditiously back in this conversation.

“And for Gilbert Burns, he seems to have adopted a mentality and a physicality about him that he’s going to be ready. He doesn’t cut a lot of weight, right? I think he can be the short-notice king of this division. It’s great when you can have a guy near the top who is willing and able to make weight and fight frequently. So, as high as the stakes are and as much as I love on the Anik & Florian Podcast to talk about these two-year championship setbacks, I’m not sure in this fight that the loser loses a whole lot, but I guess we shall see.”

Following Leon Edwards’ second straight win over Kamaru Usman at UFC 286 in March to retain the welterweight championship, UFC President Dana White declared that Colby Covington would be next for Edwards — a declaration White has repeated numerous times since.

While the matchup between Burns and Muhammad could determine the next title contender, or at worst, the man who would fight the winner of the potential Edwards vs. Covington showdown, Anik admits that while he loves the matchmaking, and was giddy when White announced it, he does wish that the fighters had a bit more time to prepare for a fight with such high stakes.

“Well, [I reacted with] mass excitement, even though I may curb some of my enthusiasm as this answer goes on because to have a sporting event of this magnitude without the proper training camp or preamble, seems a little bit inconvenient for the athletes at play,” Anik explained. “Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns is the man. He’s an absolute throwback. I love this cycle that he is in right now, desiring to clear out this entire division, even as a non-champion, to make him, unequivocally, the No. 1 contender.

“I like the fact that Leon Edwards is sort of biding his time a little bit waiting for a No. 1 contender to emerge. Belal Muhammad became, in merit, the No. 1 contender in my opinion, when Khamzat Chimaev left the division. If Khamzat Chimaev was still here, the no-brainer fight to make right now, in my humble opinion, would be Leon Edwards against Khamzat Chimaev – have a fight that they thrice tried to make and didn’t materialize. Khamzat left the division, that opened the door for Colby Covington.

“Belal Muhammed and Gilbert Burns – on the strength of his win over Jorge Masvidal – to be jockeying for position as the No. 1 contender, I love that it’s five rounds, I just feel like it’s interesting more than anything else. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but would you not agree with me that it is interesting and unique to mixed martial arts that you would have a professional sporting contest of this magnitude and it would happen on two-and-a-half weeks’ notice, right? Where maybe, for Belal, a lot of the focus is gonna be cutting weight? This sporting event is so important as a type of eliminator that it really would make more sense as the co-main event, even if it’s five-rounds, leading into Leon Edwards [vs.] Colby Covington, if indeed that is to happen in Abu Dhabi in October. So I love that Gilbert and Belal are stepping up. Selfishly for me, bro, I’ll [be there], are you kidding me? As a mixed martial arts fan. It’s amazing.”

While Burns is coming off of a massive win over Masvidal at UFC 287 in April, Muhammad hasn’t competed since stopping Sean Brady at UFC 280 this past October to extend his unbeaten streak to nine fights. Many feel that Muhammad is risking a lot more with the short time he has to prepare for Burns, but in Anik’s eyes, these are the moments that can change a fighter’s career.

“Don’t you think to fight Gilbert Burns, he would like to have a full training camp? He would like to have a full training camp,” Anik said of Muhammad. “Oftentimes I say to the high-profile athletes: Sometimes the hugely high-profile fights and opportunities in this sport come up on short notice, and those that are ready for them can take advantage. And even if Colby Covington is next for the title, we’re determining a No. 1 welterweight contender on Saturday, and fudge if I’m not excited about it.”

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