Any doubts regarding Gilbert Burns’ legitimacy as a contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division have been alleviated.
The Hard Knocks 365 standout on Saturday made his intentions known in the loudest terms imaginable, as he manhandled Tyron Woodley across five rounds and laid claim to a unanimous decision in the UFC on ESPN 9 headliner on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. All three judges sided with Burns: 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, as he swarmed the former champion with punches, floored him with a right uppercut at close rage 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.
In the aftermath of UFC on ESPN 9 “Woodley vs. Burns,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Gilbert Burns vs. Colby Covington: Burns leapfrogged Woodley in the welterweight pecking order with surprising ease and did so by every known metric. He outlanded the two-time NCAA All-American by close to a 3-to-1 clip in significant strikes, outperformed him by a 156-65 margin in total strikes and executed the only two takedowns of the bout. On a six-fight tear that includes a 4-0 mark since he moved to 170 pounds, Burns has put himself on a short list of potential challengers for reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman—a man with whom he happens to train. “Durinho” claims to have no reservations about facing Usman for the title, a revelation that could force matchmakers to alter their current plans. Covington last appeared at UFC 245 in December, when he succumbed to blows from Usman in the fifth round of their emotionally charged encounter.
Augusto Sakai vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik: Sakai extended his winning streak to five fights, established himself as a dark horse contender in the heavyweight division and moved to 3-0 in the UFC with a split decision over former World Series of Fighting champion Blagoy Ivanov in the closely contested three-round co-main event. Scores were 29-28 and 29-28 for Sakai, 30-27 for Ivanov. The Brazilian overcame a sluggish start, upped his activity level in the second half of the fight and blended together his strikes, directing his punches to the head and his kicks to the body and legs. Ivanov’s output waned down the stretch and led the 33-year-old Bulgarian down a path to his second straight setback. Rozenstruik fell from the ranks of the unbeaten at UFC 249, where he was on the receiving end of a 20-second knockout from Francis Ngannou on May 9.
Roosevelt Roberts vs. Matt Frevola-Frank Camacho winner: The dynamic, multi-faceted Roberts submitted fellow Dana White’s Contender Series alum Brok Weaver with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their lightweight showcase. Weaver raised the white flag 3:26 into Round 2. Roberts flexed his superiority in the clinch, pieced together accurate punching combinations and hunted the neck whenever opportunities presented themselves. He struck for a takedown behind a right hand in the second round, achieved full mount and softened Weaver with ground-and-pound before snaking his arms in place for the choke. Frevola will square off with Camacho at UFC Fight Night 173 on June 20.
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Jessica Eye-Cynthia Calvillo winner: In what can only be described as a comprehensive beatdown, Chookagian spent the better part of three rounds torturing Antonina Shevchenko, as she cruised to a unanimous decision in the featured women’s flyweight prelim. All three cageside judges struck 30-25 scorecards for Chookagian, who rebounded from her technical knockout loss to reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko—her latest victim’s younger sister—in February. The former Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder grounded the elder Shevchenko at will, threatened her with chokes and overwhelmed her with top control and sustained ground-and-pound. Chookagian improved to 7-3 and remains a factor in the 125-pound weight class. Eye and Calvillo have been booked opposite one another at UFC Fight Night 172 on June 13.
Casey Kenney vs. Ricky Simon: Kenney bounced back from his Feb. 15 decision defeat to Merab Dvalishvili in spectacular style, as the former two-division Legacy Fighting Alliance champion submitted Louis Smolka with a guillotine choke in the first round of their undercard pairing at 135 pounds. Smolka capitulated 3:03 into Round 1. Kenney dictated the terms of their engagement with effective counters and a series of inside leg kicks, offsetting the Hawaiian’s concerted effort to attack his body. He staggered Smolka with a right hand, forced an ill-advised takedown attempt and caught the guillotine choke before moving to a dominant position to force the tap. Simon put a stop to a two-fight losing streak at UFC Fight Night 171, where he eked out a split verdict over Ray Borg on May 13.
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