Gilbert Burns is the second-ranked welterweight in the UFC. He’s won seven of his last eight bouts, 13 of 17 in the UFC and 20 of 24 overall in MMA. He’s beaten the likes of Stephen Thompson, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia, among others.
He’s also a three-time world jiu-jitsu champion.
None of that is good enough to make him the favorite in his bout Saturday on the main card of UFC 273 in Jacksonville, Florida, against an opponent with only four UFC bouts.
At BetMGM, Burns is a +400 underdog to Khamzat Chimaev, making Burns the second-biggest underdog on the card.
“I can’t figure that stuff out,” Burns said, chuckling. “I don’t get it.”
Chimaev is the flavor of the month in MMA, and his fight with Burns is the one that has UFC officials hoping the pay-per-view numbers may hit seven figures. There aren’t a lot of fighters who are eager to fight the 11th-ranked Chimaev at this point, because he represents a much greater risk than the potential reward of beating him.
If Burns wins, he’ll undoubtedly hear in some corners that Chimaev was little more than a hype job and that Burns simply exposed him. But if Chimaev wins, he’ll have been beaten by a guy who had yet to meet a ranked opponent previously.
It’s a no-win situation for Burns, but he had little hesitation in accepting the fight.
“You talk about a guy being a stud and stepping up, Gilbert took this fight right away,” UFC president Dana White said. “There aren’t a lot of guys who want to fight this guy. You hear guys say they do and all that, but that’s what they say in public. When we offer them fights, there’s always a reason they say no.”
Burns took the fight because that’s what he does. He’s a fighter and he said his goals are to fight the best in the world and become a UFC champion.
A win over Chimaev would go a long way toward getting him another shot at the belt.
But he’s also not taking shots at Chimaev, who he said has impressed him. Chimaev is 4-0 in the UFC with three first-round finishes and the statistics he’s compiled are ridiculous.
According to UFC Stats, Chimaev has had a 112-1 edge on his opponents in significant strikes landed and a 252-2 edge in total strikes. It’s a mind-boggling figure.
Burns gave credit where credit is due, but he also noted that he’ll represent by far the biggest challenge Chimaev has faced.
“A lot of questions will be answered Saturday,” Burns said. “We’ll see. I think he’s very, very tough. A lot of respect to the guy. He’s been finishing the competition, like, very good, you know? He been making a big statement every time that he step into the Octagon. But now we level up. Now, we’re going to the top two in the world, and we’ll see. We’ll see if the guy is going to become another Conor McGregor, or is going to be an easy knockout. We’ll see.”
Fighting Chimaev is a means to an end for Burns, who was so intense prior to fighting his friend, Kamaru Usman, for the welterweight title at UFC 258 that he didn’t perform to his capabilities.
That means he needs to be impressive each time out. He did that in a summer win over Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and he aims it to do it against arguably the hottest name in the sport at the moment.
Burns is confident because of who he’s trained with, and he notably mentioned former light heavyweight title challenger Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, one of the biggest punchers in the sport’s history.
Burns is on the short list of the best jiu-jitsu players in MMA and so while Chimaev’s wrestling and physical strength have been huge factors in his favor in his fights so far, Burns reckons he’ll do OK if it comes down to that.
“He’s not going to be only one way, and he’s not going out there to be a fricking kickboxer, I can guarantee you that,” Burns said. “ … We’re going to grapple and wrestle, for sure. And I hope he’s that guy that going to try to take me down with and grapple with me. That’s my hope.”