Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns were full of emotion while embracing in the middle of the Octagon on Saturday night. Burns had blood and tears running down his face. Some of their cornermen behind them were trying not to cry.
Usman stopped Burns, his former teammate, via TKO at 34 seconds of the third round to defend his UFC welterweight title in the main event of UFC 258 in Las Vegas.
Usman landed a right hand as he was switching stances to floor Burns, then slammed Burns with punches on the ground until referee Herb Dean pulled him off.
“Gilbert is a guy that I’ve known from the start,” Usman said in his postfight interview. “I love him. This one was tough for me to deal with.”
Usman picked up his 13th straight win, surpassing legend Georges St-Pierre for the most consecutive wins in UFC welterweight history. Only Anderson Silva has won more than 13 straight fights in UFC history, winning 16 in a row from 2006 to 2012. Usman is tied with six other fighters with 13 consecutive wins.
Usman and Burns were teammates in South Florida since 2012, first with the Blackzilians and most recently with Sanford MMA. Usman departed for Colorado to train under coach Trevor Wittman last year after the initial fight with Burns was scheduled for July. But Burns tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew from that bout. Henri Hooft, the longtime head coach for both Usman and Burns, did not corner either man and said he would not even watch the fight.
“Guys, you cannot discredit what Gilbert Burns has done in this division,” Usman said. “We started together. We started this journey together, and he showed it tonight. He went in there and put it all together.”
The bout had major implications outside of the personal story. Coming in, ESPN had Usman ranked No. 5 in the world in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. In the welterweight division, ESPN has Usman ranked No. 1 and Burns at No. 5.
Burns rocked Usman twice early with huge right hands. But Usman hung in through a tumultuous first round. He then took over in the second, working a beautiful jab and stymieing Burns’ power and explosiveness. Usman’s striking looked better than ever, as he switched stances and landed with power from each one.
In the second round, Usman dropped Burns twice, the second time with a jab. In the third, it was a right hand that resembled a jab that put Burns on his butt before Usman pounced and finished on the ground.
Usman outlanded Burns 83-45 in significant strikes, per UFC Stats.
“I am the best on the planet for a reason,” Usman said in his postfight interview. “Y’all, everybody else, you better put some f—ing respect on my name. … I’m here to stay.”
Burns said he made a “mistake” trying to finish Usman in the opening round.
“I know I can end any one of these guys. But in order to become a champion, I have to be disciplined,” Burns said. “I saw he was hurt. I kind of started loading up so much [on my punches]. The key for me was to keep doing what I was doing. Stay light on my feet. … Me, I was overexcited. He stayed disciplined. That’s what happened.”
UFC 258 was held with COVID-19 protocols in place at the UFC Apex, a facility across from the UFC’s Las Vegas corporate campus. It was the promotion’s first domestic pay-per-view card of the year.
Usman (18-1) has been champion since beating Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 in March 2019. He has had three successful title defenses. The Nigeria native, who grew up in Texas, has never lost in the UFC.
“He’s the whole package,” UFC president Dana White said. “The guy’s got the whole thing. It’s just, when are people gonna notice?”
White added: “The kid is the real deal, man. For the people that know, for the people that actually know about fighting, they know this win tonight was a big deal.”
Usman, 33, was coming off a unanimous-decision win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251 last July. Afterward, Usman called out Masvidal, who took that fight on six days notice. Usman said that “it’s not done” with Masvidal.
“He keeps running his mouth,” Usman said. “If he’s gonna talk, step in here and see me.”
White said Usman has “a lot of options,” but if Usman and Masvidal want to fight — and if the fans are interested — White said the promotion would consider it.
“If you look at all the guys that are lined up that he has to fight next, and he keeps doing what he’s doing, we’re gonna all pop our heads up one day and we’re gonna start talking GOAT,” White said. “It’s not just how you’re fighting and if you’re winning, it’s who you’re fighting, too.”
Masvidal’s co-manager Malki Kawa wrote Saturday night on Twitter that Masvidal wants to coach opposite Usman on the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Burns (19-4) had won six in a row coming in, the most recent a unanimous-decision win over Woodley last May. The Brazil native is 4-1 since moving up to welterweight from lightweight in 2019.
Burns, 34, is a multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion with power in his hands. He was trying to become the first Brazilian to win the UFC welterweight title.
“I’m the varsity guy,” Usman said. “My fight IQ is different. It’s different when you’re in the gym with me. But when you get in here, it’s a different ballgame. I’m a whole ‘nother savage.”