Usman-Burns UFC matchup light on animus, big on talent

By Field Level Media
July 12, 2020; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Kamaru Usman of Nigeria kicks Jorge Masvidal in their UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 251 event at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 12, 2020 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via USA TODAY Sports

A battle of former training partners headlines UFC 258 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (17-1), a Nigerian who fights out of Denver, takes on Brazilian Gilbert Burns (19-3) in the title-fight main event of the pay-per-view card.

Usman’s last two title defenses, victories over Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal, were heavily hyped grudge matches, but there’s no big dramatic storyline of a falling-out between him and Burns.

They simply kept getting better together until it became clear they were going to fight one day, and the champ chose to move his training camp from their shared gym in South Florida to Colorado in order to prevent ill will between the two.

“I think it does go away a little bit because he’s going to try hard, and I’m going to go in and get what I always do,” Usman said during a Wednesday media day. “I like the fact he’s got all this confidence going into this. I like it. He’s put the work in the last year and a half. He’s done some good work, and I see this and I recognize that. We both know.”

If a lack of animosity might not drive up PPV sales, the fight itself is a matter of outstanding competitors who have been competing at their highest level.

Usman has won all 12 of his UFC fights since joining the company in 2015, combining outstanding wrestling, heavy fists and a gas tank that leaves even opponents known for their cardio gasping for air in the later rounds.

Burns has been on the unheralded side, but he, too, has looked sharp. He has won six in a row and eight of nine. His past two victories were a first-round finish of former two-weight title challenger Demian Maia and a five-round rout of Tyron Woodley, whom Usman beat to claim the title in 2019.

Defeating Woodley cinched Burns’ shot at the championship.

–Field Level Media