As of early Tuesday morning, most books had Gilbert Burns (22-5 MMA, 15-5 UFC) installed as a -125 to -135 favorite in Saturday’s UFC 288 co-main event. ‘El Durinho,’ who is currently ranked fifth in the welterweight rankings, is set to face fourth-ranked Belal ‘Remember the Name’ Muhammad, who is a +110 underdog.
This is a short-notice scrap at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, that will precede the headliner between Aljamain ‘Funk Master’ Sterling and Henry Cejudo, who is returning from a three-year retirement at the age of 36 to challenge Sterling for his bantamweight strap.
Burns-Muhammad was put together after the original co-headliner – Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush – was pushed back to UFC 289 due to an injury to ‘Do Bronx,’ the former lightweight champion. The perennial 170-pound contenders agreed to a five-round bout on April 20, so they’ve had only two weeks to prepare.
The 36-year-old Burns is 9-2 in his last 11 fights dating back to December of 2018. One of his defeats during that span came in a third-round knockout loss to Kamaru Usman in a welterweight title fight at UFC 258 on Feb. 13 of 2021. MMA Junkie dubbed that bout the Fight of the Month.
Burns’s only other defeat in this 11-fight stretch was a battle for the ages that I was lucky enough to enjoy from the second row at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, where Khamzat Chimaev captured a unanimous-decision win (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) over Burns.
Chimaev is 6-0 in the UFC. In five fights against John Phillips (at middleweight), Rhys McKee, Gerald Meerschaert, Li Jingliang and Kevin Holland, ‘Borz’ has landed 112 strikes and taken only one. However, Burns enjoyed a 119-108 advantage in strikes landed in his war with Chimaev.
The highlights of this battle are epic:
Unlike many back-and-forth clashes of this ilk where the fighters are never the same (Lawler-Condit comes to mind) again, that hasn’t been the case at all. Burns has bounced back to record consecutive wins over Neil Magny and Jorge Masvidal.
He defeated Magny via first-round submission at UFC 283 on Jan. 21 before cruising to a UD victory (30-27, 29-28, 30-27) over ‘Gamebred’ less than a month ago (April 8) at UFC 287. Magny is the welterweight loop’s all-time leader in career wins (20).
Burns has compiled an 8-2 record in 10 career fights at 170 pounds. He went 7-3 in 10 Octagon appearances in the lightweight division. The Brazilian owns other notable wins over the likes of Gunnar Nelson, Demian Maia, Tyron Woodley, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and Alex Oliveira.
Woodley is the former welterweight kingpin, while Maia, Thompson and Masvidal combined to fight for UFC gold – albeit unsuccessfully, although Thompson did fight Woodley to a draw once – six different times.
Burns has nine career wins via submission and six KOs. He’s been KO’d twice (by Usman and Dan Hooker) and posted a 7-3 record in 10 career bouts that went the distance.
The 34-year-old Muhammad (22-3-0-1 MMA, 13-3-0-1 UFC) is 8-0 with one no-contest in his last nine Octagon appearances. He’s produced a 12-1 record with one NC in his last 14 bouts since 2017.
Muhammad’s only loss during this span came by UD vs. Geoff Neal, and the no-contest came in Round 2 vs. Leon Edwards when Muhammad was poked into the eye 14 seconds into the stanza. His most notable wins have been his last four over Maia, Thompson, Vicente Luque and Sean Brady.
Muhammad’s two other losses came by UD vs. Alan Jouban and via first-round KO vs. Luque. Sixteen of his 22 wins have come by decision, while he has five KOs and one submission.
Make no mistake, this won’t be easy for Burns. Muhammad isn’t really spectacular at anything, but he’s extremely solid everywhere. You don’t go nine fights in a row in the UFC without a loss unless you’re an absolute beast.
Nevertheless, I think Burns is the better fighter. I think he’s more explosive, faster, more powerful with his punches and better on the ground. Burns has a third-degree blackbelt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, while Muhammad is a purple belt in BJJ.
Burns is accustomed to giving away some size, but that won’t be the case Saturday. Both fighters are 5-foot-10 and Muhammad has just a one-inch reach advantage.
Perhaps most important since this is a five-round contest on short notice, I think Burns has better cardio.
The Pick: Gilbert Burns -125 for three units.