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Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns have trained together for years, but that won’t be an issue leading into their welterweight championship bout at UFC 251.
Usman told ESPN that he has left Hard Knocks 365 in Florida and will train under the guidance of Trevor Wittman in Colorado. Wittman notably works with UFC interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and former strawweight queen Rose Namajunas.
Before training under Henri Hooft, Usman was part of the now-defunct Blackzilians team, so this will mark the first time in his professional tenure that “The Nigerian Nightmare” will train outside of Florida. His corner for fight night is expected to include Wittman, Jorge Santiago, his brother, Mohammed Usman, and potentially, Gaethje.
"Florida was the base for a long time, but you grow from there," Usman said. "We always had a ton of guys, some of the best training partners out there and some great coaches.
"But I wanted a little more specific attention at this point in my career -- someone to be able to say, 'You're going to come in at this time and work on this particular skill.' It's very tough to do that when there are 40 to 50 guys in the room with you who also need to get attention.”
Meanwhile, Burns confirmed with ESPN that Hooft has removed himself from the matchup entirely.
"Our main coach, Henri Hooft, he stepped out," Burns said. "He said, 'I don't want to go either way. I don't want to pick a side. You guys train. I'll be here at the gym. If you want to train here, we can train. But I'm not going to the fight.’
"For me, it doesn't change too much. It's just a little weird to fight Kamaru. I really like the guy a lot. We've trained together since 2012 or 2013, so we've put a lot of time together.”
According to Usman, leaving his old gym was inevitable given his status as 170-pound champion.
"I think eventually I would have changed things up anyway," Usman said. "We had a lot of welterweights at that gym. At some point, when you're training with these guys on a daily basis and you're the champion of the world, these guys know you in and out and if they get the better of you one day, they're licking their chops thinking it's their time. A little separation from that is good. It keeps that element of surprise, because these guys feel like they know you.”
UFC 251 takes place on July 11 at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi and is headlined by Usman vs. Burns. Two other title bouts occupy the main card, as Alexander Volkanovski defends featherweight gold in a rematch with Max Holloway, while Petr Yan and Jose Aldo vie for the vacant bantamweight strap.
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