Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns were full of emotion when they hugged in the middle of the octagon on Saturday night. Burns ran blood and tears down his face. Some of their corner men behind them tried not to cry.
Usman stopped Burns, his former teammate, via TKO in 34 seconds of the third round to defend his UFC welterweight title at the UFC 258 main event in Las Vegas.
Usman landed a right hand when he changed his stance on Burns’ floor, then hit Burns with blows to the floor until Referee Herb Dean pulled him off.
“Gilbert is the guy I’ve known from the start,” Usman said in his post-fight interview. “I love him. This one was difficult for me to master.”
Usman took his 13th straight win, surpassing the legend Georges St-Pierre for the most straight wins in UFC welterweight history. Only Anderson Silva has won more than 13 straight fights in UFC history, winning 16 straight from 2006 to 2012. Usman is linked with six other fighters with 13 straight wins.
Usman and Burns have been teammates in South Florida since 2012, first with the Blackzilians and most recently with Sanford MMA. Usman traveled to Colorado last year to train under Trainer Trevor Wittman after the first fight with Burns was scheduled for July. But Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew from that fight. Henri Hooft, the longtime head coach of Usman and Burns, didn’t corner either man and say he wouldn’t even watch the fight.
“Folks, you can’t discredit what Gilbert Burns did in this department,” Usman said. “We started together. We started this journey together and he showed it tonight. He went in there and put it all together.”
Kamaru Usman, right, rolled to his 13th straight win, breaking Georges St-Pierre’s record for the most straight wins in UFC welterweight history. Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC
The struggle had a huge impact outside of personal history. ESPN had Usman ranked 5th in the world on its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. In the welterweight division, ESPN has usman in first place and Burns in fifth place.
Burns rocked Usman twice early with huge right hands. But Usman stayed in a tumultuous first round. He then took over in the second, working a nice push and hampering Burns’ strength and explosiveness. Usman’s punch looked better than ever as he switched stance and landed with the force of each.
In the second round, Usman dropped Burns twice, the second time with one push. In the third, it was a right hand that resembled a push Burns put on his bum before Usman threw himself and landed on the floor.
Usman outsmarted Burns 83-45 in major strikes, according to UFC statistics.
“I’m the best on the planet for a reason,” Usman said in his post-fight interview. “Y’all, everyone else, you’d better pay some respect to my name. … I’m here to stay.”
Burns said he made a “mistake” trying to finish Usman in the opening round.
“I know I can finish any of these guys. But to be a champion I have to be disciplined,” said Burns. “I saw that he was injured. I started loading so much [on my punches]. The key for me was to keep doing what I was doing. Stay lightly on my feet. … I was overwhelmed. He remained disciplined. That’s what happened. “
UFC 258 was held with COVID-19 logs at the UFC Apex, a facility across from the UFC corporate campus in Las Vegas. It was the first domestic pay-per-view card of the year.
Usman (18-1) has been champions since beating Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 in March 2019. He had three successful title defenses. The native Nigerian who grew up in Texas never lost in the UFC.
“He’s the whole package,” said UFC President Dana White. “The guy has the whole thing. It’s just when are people going to notice?”
White added, “The kid is the real thing man. For the people who know, for the people who actually know about fighting, they know that win tonight was a big deal.”
The 33-year-old Usman had a unanimous win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251 last July. Then Usman called Masvidal, who started this fight six days in advance. Usman said “it won’t be done” with Masvidal.
“He keeps moving his mouth,” Usman said. “If he wants to talk, come in here and see me.”
White said Usman has “a lot of options,” but if Usman and Masvidal want to fight – and if the fans are interested – White said the promotion would consider that.
“If you look at all of the guys standing in line he has to fight next and he keeps doing what he does, one day we’re all going to put our heads up and start talking about GOAT,” said White. “It’s not just how you fight and if you win, it’s who you fight too.”
Masvidal’s co-manager Malki Kawa wrote on Twitter on Saturday evening that Masvidal wants to train against Usman in the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.
Burns (19-4) had won six times in a row, most recently against Woodley last May. The native Brazilian is 4: 1 since he rose from lightweight to welterweight in 2019.
The 34-year-old Burns is a multiple Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion with power in his hands. He tried to become the first Brazilian to win the UFC welterweight title.
“I’m the college guy,” Usman said. “My combat IQ is different. It’s different when you’re in the gym with me. But when you come in here it’s a different ball game. I’m a whole different savage.”