Gilbert Burns: An Unlikely Rise
By Jack Maher
As Gilbert Burns gears up to compete in his first ever UFC main event, it’s easy to forget that not too long ago Burns was a long way from where he is today.
Less than two years ago, Burns suffered a first round defeat to Dan Hooker via KO in a lightweight bout on the Fight Pass prelims of UFC 226, on July 7th 2018.
After the bout, Hooker largely attributed the victory to Burns’ harsh weight cut, telling MMAjunkie “I was barely touching him and he kept falling over. That can only be one thing and it’s dehydration.”
That loss came off the back of Burns being pulled from a bout against Olivier Aubin-Mercier after medical officials deemed it unsafe for Burns to continue his weight cut.
With his struggles to make the 155lb limit well documented, and a one-sided loss to a then unranked Dan Hooker in the books, it looked like Burns’ career was going nowhere fast, but things soon started to change for ‘Durinho’
Burns would compete twice more at lightweight, picking up a comfortable decision against Aubin-Mercier, and a second-round submission over Mike Davies via rear-naked choke. Burns had re-found his form, but it was once he made the move up to welterweight that things really started to come together for the Brazilian.
Burns would step in on less than two weeks notice to face Alexey Kunchenko at welterweight. Fighting at short notice was something that wasn’t typically on the table for Burns when competing at lightweight, but the easier weight cut at 170 made it possible. Burns handed the then 20-0 Kunchenko his first professional loss, winning by unanimous decision.
This was the beginning of a brief trend for Burns, who again stepped up on short notice, this time to face Gunnar Nelson in Denmark, filling in for an injured Thiago Alves with around two weeks preparation. Burns collected another comfortable decision, and was suddenly on a two-fight win streak at his new weight.
Burns was rewarded for his late notice wins with a bout against Demian Maia, the highest profile fight of his career at the time. Both men are blackbelts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so fans who were expecting a grappling-heavy affair were left shocked when Burns knocked out the veteran with a left hook in the first round. This was Maia’s first stoppage defeat since 2009, and the win took Burns up to number six in the welterweight rankings.
From a forgotten man at lightweight who was mostly known for his weight struggles, Burns has transformed himself in to a dangerous welterweight contender, and the heavy-handed second degree blackbelt will likely make the step in to title contention if he can beat former champion Tyron Woodley this weekend. Win or lose, it is a far cry from where Burns stood in the summer of 2018.