5 Defining Moments: Gilbert Burns

Gilbert Burns still has a prominent role to play in the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight division.

The Kill Cliff Fight Club representative years ago established himself as a Top 10 commodity at 170 pounds by combining world-class grappling skills with ever-improving standup and leaving precious few weakness for opponents to exploit. Burns, who has never suffered back-to-back losses in his career, joined the UFC roster nearly nine years ago and now owns a 14-5 record inside the Octagon. He last competed at UFC 283, where he submitted “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 16 semifinalist Neil Magny with an arm-triangle choke in the first round of their Jan. 21 clash.

As Burns awaits word on his next assignment from UFC matchmakers, a look at five of the many moments that have come to define him to this point:

1. A Positive Introduction

Burns stepped in as a short-notice replacement for Viscardi Andrade and remained undefeated in a successful promotional debut, as he took a unanimous decision from Andreas Stahl as part of the UFC on Fox 12 undercard on July 26, 2014 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28. Stahl pushed a merciless pace in the first round, pressing the fight with forward movement, clinches and punches. A well-placed uppercut from Burns left the Swede with a damaged nose, compromised his ability to breathe and slowed his advance. Over the course of the final 10 minutes, Burns established himself with well-disguised knees and crisp punches. The Brazilian struck for a takedown in the second round and cracked Stahl with a spinning elbow on the break in the third, making the most of his opportunities.

2. Cooling-Off Period

Former M-1 Global champion Rashid Magomedov cooled some of the hype surrounding Burns when he was awarded a unanimous verdict over the Brazilian in their UFC Fight Night 77 lightweight showcase on Nov. 7, 2015 at Geraldo Jose de Almeida State Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Magomedov swept the scorecards with 30-27 marks from the cageside judiciary. Burns landed a pair of takedowns in the first round, but he lacked the necessary tools on the feet. Magomedov picked apart the four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion with crisp combinations, exquisite counters and kicks to the body and legs. He did his best work in the second round, where an overhand right had Burns dancing all over the cage on unsteady footing. Magomedov rode the momentum into Round 3 and put more distance between himself and the previously unbeaten Henri Hooft protégé.

3. Too Much Thump

Burns made it impossible to ignore him with a series of victories inside the welterweight division, none more impressive than his first-round knockout of Demian Maia in the UFC Fight Night 170 co-headliner on March 14, 2020 at Nilson Nelson Gymnasium in Brasilia, Brazil. He bolstered his resume in stunning fashion and drew the curtain 2:34 into Round 1, becoming the first fighter to stop Maia with strikes since Nate Marquardt had done so more than a decade earlier. Burns initially ceded ground in the face of forward pressure from the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist and surrendered two takedowns. He eventually escaped out the back door when Maia attempted to move to full mount, returning to his feet and the safety of open space in the center of the cage. Burns then floored his counterpart with a chopping overhand left and pounced with rapid-fire hammerfists to prompt the stoppage.

4. Point of Contention

Talk about seizing the moment. Burns let his intentions be known in the loudest terms imaginable when he manhandled Tyron Woodley across five rounds and earned a unanimous decision in the UFC on ESPN 9 main event on May 30, 2020 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Scores were 50-45, 50-44 and 50-44. Woodley once again appeared tentative and out of sorts against a next-generation competitor. Burns set the tone with a sublime first round, where he swarmed the former champion with punches, floored him with a right uppercut at close range and powered into top position. From there, the Brazilian climbed to full mount, opened a serious cut above Woodley’s left eye with an elbow strike and applied maximum pressure from the top. Burns kept his foot on the gas for the duration of the bout—even after he had built an insurmountable lead on the scorecards—and showed he was the superior fighter in all phases.

5. Access Denied

Kamaru Usman retained his undisputed welterweight crown with a stirring third-round technical knockout of Burns in the UFC 258 headliner on Feb. 13, 2021 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Usman brought it to a close 34 seconds into Round 3, though it was far from a typical title defense for the champion. Burns had “The Nigerian Nightmare” reeling with an overhand right in the first round and appeared to have him discombobulated at times. Usman, however, slowly regained his faculties and started to seize command. He relied more and more on a devastating jab from both hands and floored Burns with the punch during a dominant second round. Usman dropped the four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion again at the start of Round 3, sent a standing-to-ground right crashing into his face and let fly with punches until referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
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