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Gilbert Burns previews Kamaru Usman title fight: 'I just see a war'

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UFC's No. 2-ranked welterweight Gilbert Burns says he's "super excited" to face his former training partner Kamaru Usman for the title despite their long friendship.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey folks. I am Kevin Iole, and welcome to Yahoo Sports. And my guest now is going to be in the main event of the next big UFC fight card, UFC 258 on February 13th at Apex in Las Vegas, the challenger for the welterweight championship of the world, Gilbert Burns. Gilbert, how are you doing, my man?

GILBERT BURNS: I'm doing great Kevin. Good to see you, bro.

KEVIN IOLE: Good to see you as well. Last time we talked, you had just gotten done with a long drive across the country. Thought you were going to have a fight that kind of fell through. I imagine things are a lot better now than they were then when your fight with Kamaru Usman fell through last time.

GILBERT BURNS: Yeah, no, feelings is now way, way better. That time was a rough one, very tough one to swallow, but I tried to get things positive even that I just lost the title, shortly got COVID, I would sleep for a little while, getting dragged back, but I believe that everything happens for a reason, and now it's easier to believe that happened for a reason because I felt better. I think improved so much on the meantime. I feel stronger. I feel very healthy and excited. A couple more weeks, a couple more weeks to be fighting for the title, and I'm feeling great.

KEVIN IOLE: Kamaru had-- when you had to pull out of the fight, Kamaru went forward, and he ended up fighting Jorge Masvidal. And I wonder what you thought of his performance. You know Masvidal took the fight on short notice. So we have to kind of keep that in mind, but Kamaru, I thought, looked really good in the fight and looked like a handful, and I'm curious your thought. What did you think of the way Kamaru handled Jorge Masvidal?

GILBERT BURNS: I think he handled very good. I think he was very disciplined with a lot of things. Changing your opponent is always, it's always tough, you know. For sure he was looking for a shorter guy with quick hands, the game that he knows so much. You know, a lot of grappling, a lot of wrestling, and he changed, you know. Now he's getting striked as a little bit more, let's say, a little bit more dangerous, only on the feet, and he did what he had to do you know. Took him down very quickly, controlled the fight.

And we did a lot of cage work, and I even saw the why because first right hook Masvidal went down. Masvidal was trembling so much, it makes it so hard for any to get a good, rational thought. That was a little bit more safe, and don't-- we're not making super tired working on the cage, and Kamaru did that very good. I think he was very disciplined. If I was a little boy, I kind of expect that because Kamaru's very disciplined when he fights, but I think he did a great job.

KEVIN IOLE: How much did you guys spar over the years? Like are you really familiar with each other?

GILBERT BURNS: Yeah, we spar so many times. First time that I saw Kamaru was 2012, and we always enjoyed a lot, you know. I always looked for him, he always looked for me because, you know, it's good training. We always give each other a good look. Yeah, we had like 8 years-- almost seven to eight years training a lot. Not every single day I was with Kamaru, just short because sometimes he got a fight, and the guy was a little like me, so with that can't be either welcome me, made the sense cause Masvidal was starting in a south paw. It was nothing look like Kamaru. But in between for sure. We got over 200 sparring sessions, for sure. 200 rounds at least we got with each other. A lot of grappling, so we're very familiar with each other.

KEVIN IOLE: So you're staying to train in Florida. He went to Colorado. How did you guys determine that? I know your friends, so how did you determine who got to stay and who had to go elsewhere?

GILBERT BURNS: That was determined even before me getting the title shot because he explained with that fight with Colby, he wants to leave in the middle of that camp. He end up staying, but he-- I even talked to him a lot on that, and then he said next camp will be on Colorado. He wants to go there. More attention he has, one of our former teammates there, Carrington Banks, he's got a good relationship with Trevor Wittman, Justin Gaethje, and he said he want to go there anyways.

And he supports fighting Masvidal for that-- to the next fight after Colby, but they already get all the fighting [INAUDIBLE] for a bad contract, and then the fight never happened. In the meantime, I knocked out Demian Maia, then I did. Was it that I asked for the title UFC given to me, but he was going anyways. Me getting the fight-- the title shot just make that transition for him a little breaker, but he had the plan already.

KEVIN IOLE: You know Gilbert, I wonder. I mean, I think your style match up, if you were guys that did not know each other, I'd say, boy, this style match is going to be interesting, right? And I really like it. But I wonder if it's going to be difficult because he knows your best moves, and you know his best moves, and so are we going to be at a stalemate? Or what happens? Like, how do we get a good fight out of this when you guys know each other so well?

GILBERT BURNS: We know each other so well, but it's been more than six months that we're not training together, that he's there with Trevor Wittman. I believe he's sporting a little bit more new tools, only still box, so am I. And even knowing each other, the sparrings that we had, the grappling exchange that we had was always fun to watch, and I believe it still be because I'm not going to be a Colby that just going to strike you with any one of my opponents. I'm going to grapple with every single one, and I'm going to strike with every single one.

So I just see, it's not going to be easy for either guy, but I see a war in both guys hammering like we did at the training, and the multiple times that the training roll, and then I just see a war, and I'm excited. I cannot wait for that fight. But I see, he's going to-- even that we know each other a lot, we're not going to back down. We're both going to collide in the middle. We're going to wrestle, we're going to grapple, we're going to do cage, we're going to do lot of things, and I'm super excited about it.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, I wonder how you look at this. You know, you had been so busy, I think, from the end of September of '19 into May. You know, you had had three fights. If you even go back more, you had one in August of '19, and then you get that break. So you were on that roll, you know, and it seemed that good. If you had it to do the way you wanted, would you want it to be-- you know, have done it before, or do you think this break will have done you some good?

GILBERT BURNS: The way I wanted. I had to I wish I had fight in July, but with after the COVID, I got sick, it was-- was definitely one to recover. If I could pick, i was fighting November 31st when the fight was off at first, but sometimes there's not a lot of time to think. Doesn't happen the way we want it, and it's just life. And like you said, I was too busy. I actually decided to move up UFC [INAUDIBLE] two weeks, Uruguay. That was August 10th? 11th? If I'm not wrong.

And then boom went to Uruguay, got that done, got back, one-- like five days off, got back the G, not even four weeks after that, they call me again to fight Gunnar Nelson. Now that fight with the Russian was I'll be staying if I'm not wrong, with Gunnar Nelson was the end of September. We didn't mind [INAUDIBLE] the two fights. And then I grappled with a lot of them. I did so many other fights in 2019.

And then it gone 2020, with the fight with Demian Maia, it was the only fight that it got a full camp, beat Demian Maia, and then pandemic hits. That fight was the first one with no public, got back to the US, and then I make a lot noise with that fight with Woodley. So the fight was about to happen, so it got back to a three week's camp. To do a fight with a shortened camp, and the fight took so long to get done, but I was training, I was getting bad boo call the fight with Woodley. After the fight, I try to give it a shot. So I have-- sorry, I just got a call right here. You back?

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I'm here.

GILBERT BURNS: OK. So after that fight with Maia, it was back in boom, right into training, and no break. You got the Woodley fight. You got all the time to sort after the Woodley fight. Back in training again, so even my doctor said, bro, you did so many fights, so many camps, and back to back in July, I only had two fights, and I was going to my next fight. And first, two-fight rounds that I always-- that I ever had in my life back to back, he said, your immunities came down, that's why you got COVID.

So then I have to stop everything back again, and get healthy, go back to training. I got a couple grappling mats, UFC said, no, we're not going to risk. You cannot grapple. So that was a little thing that bothered me a little bit at beginning, but I understand, you know, I cannot get hurt doing this fricken grappling match, and the good thing was that I put a lot of-- I had-- for me, I had my bigger goals, but I got to have small goals in between in order to keep me going, keep me working.

And I sit down with the coach, and we say, you know what? I need to have a little goals, so what can we do? And say we're going to wrestle a lot. Your rest stance should be better. Couple things that we need to get better, and then that was my, OK, this whole month for the rest. Next month, we're going to box. And then I meet those small goals should keep me very busy, and I like it, and then-- that was very good for my body because I was beating my body up,


GILBERT BURNS: So, that break was good for recovering my body and to focus on a lot of little things that, if I keep fighting, fighting, fighting, I think I wouldn't have the time to-- to take a closer look and get better. And that was exactly what I did. And I think the Gilbert Burns that's fighting Kamaru Usman February 13th, is way better than the Gilbert that fought Woodley, that fought Maia, that didn't fight in 2019-20, I think I'm leveling up a lot in my mind every single error of my game.

KEVIN IOLE: You have fought in both the 25 and 30 foot cage in back-to-back fights, right? So you've been in the smaller cage, you've been in the bigger cage. Which one suits your style better? The smaller one or the bigger one? You're going to be in the smaller one for UFC 258.

GILBERT BURNS: I love it. If I could pick, if it was mine, I would pick the small one all day against anyone just to-- just keep the action all-- every single time. The chaos, the scrambles, and that's what I love. That if it was me, if I was Dana White, it will be always the small cage just because I want me as a fighter, I want the chaos, and me as a fan, I want to see the chaos, too.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, I wonder if you can talk to this. You know a lot of people that I have talked to you about Kamaru talk about you know, you've only seen a little bit of how good he is, that he has more to his game than he's shown, and specifically one of the things people say is he has unbelievable kicks, and that his kicks are really good. But because of injuries maybe he hasn't shown that so much. Have you seen that in camp where you work with him and you know how good his kicks are?

GILBERT BURNS: He's good everywhere. He got good kicks. He doesn't kick a lot because of his injuries on his knees, but he can kick. But I think he does a lot of things without kicking so much. He kicks, and I know he start with so much, to be said so much he leaks more, too, when the guy's south paw, and they kicks a lot more, a lot of push kicks. But I think he's a very-- he's a high level fighter, that he can kick, he throw good knees, he throw elbows, he can grapple, he can wrestle, he can strike, he can box. And people can underestimate that a lot. Boy your strike is way better, and then I'm like, man, I trained with that guy so much, I know-- I know his strike. He's good. He does hit hard, and I'm not underestimating Kamaru in any area. I know how good he is, and I'm prepared for that.

KEVIN IOLE: Do you have to get yourself in a certain mindspace to fight a friend? You know, where this isn't a sparring match. This is for the world championship. I know you don't hate anybody you fight, but I mean, there is-- when you're fighting somebody you don't know, maybe it's a little different to punch them in the face or drop an elbow on them than it is when it's your buddy that you've trained with for a number of years. So how do you get ready for that? You know, I know what happens in other sports. You know, it doesn't happen as much in MMA maybe, but how do you get ready for that so that you get in the mindspace you need to be in to do what you have to do to win the title?

GILBERT BURNS: Was a little complicated first was with Demian Maia, you know because that was always a friend of mine, a guy that I like. He never trained with me, but I-- we used to go to the same jiu jitsu tournaments. So I saw Demian a couple of times, we'd be on the same mats with the-- [INAUDIBLE] time back in the days, and then we were on the same mats. He was a higher belt than me, I always respected, and I always cheered for Demian, but when I had to fight Demian, that was the first time that I kind of had to put that aside, and like you said, I don't hate nobody that I fight, and I don't-- I don't love no one that I fight as well.

So when I get there, if we set to fight, if we sign that contract and get in the octagon, we fight. It's-- it's different than training, different than everything and then I got, to be honest, I have a lot of feelings when we go to the octagon. And I said, there's only one guy, only in-- only one guy that I don't fight at 170, at a welterweight division is Vicente Luque because he's a brother of mine, he comes to my house, he sleeps over here.

I went to Brazil and stayed in his house, we trained together, and that's the only guy at 170 that I would never fight, but besides that, I will fight anyone. I have no feeling. Kamaru, you know we used to train together. We used to be very close. Thank God we're not training together anymore. He went to another place. That makes things way easier, you know. And then-- and we-- I have that competition inside of me. As soon as I get in the octagon, I want to beat this guy, I want to knock him out. I want to be-- I want to finish this guy.

And that-- with that competition in me, I think it helps me get ready to fight another guy that I like, you know. And then once that octagon door closes, it's all business. I want to finish the guy that's in front of me. I really-- I want to just swing, I want to finish the guy that's in front of me. Even for the camera, I'll finish then and go for the domination, but for me, it's getting simple and simple because I have no feelings, no hate. I'm on a mission-- I'm on a mission when I'm there. If you sign it, you know what you're signing. So I'm coming for.

KEVIN IOLE: I'm not signing with you, pal. Believe me, I-- only good things. Hey, let's end on this. You know you made you were fighting a lightweight, and you were just a guy in the division, right? I mean, a good fighter, but you certainly were not looked at as a title contender when you were a lightweight. You moved up to welterweight, and you changed your career. And I wonder about your brother, Herbert, and have you guys talked about-- do you think Herbert has the ability to do what you did? You know to kind of get turned around, and you know, he's a good fighter now, does he have that ability to turn and make and be a great fighter?

GILBERT BURNS: Well we talked about that. He was just fighting in Ireland. He cornered in the when, they were at Michael Chandler, I think he's coming back tonight. We're in the middle of that conversation, you know figuring everything out because it's-- which was always hard for him to make a 45. He even compete [INAUDIBLE] couple times at 145, but was always hard for you to make the weight, and now it's getting even harder because he's over 30s.

So we had-- we in the middle of that conversation right now. In order to make-- trying to see if he can be a little bit more professional, more focus on the weights. See if he can keep the weight down. If not, he got to move up. But we're figuring things out because in a lot of ways, we're very different, you know. We have brought the same blood, but we very, very different. So--

KEVIN IOLE: You're far more outgoing than he is, I know that.


KEVIN IOLE: You're more outgoing than he is.

GILBERT BURNS: Yeah, way more. A lot more. But that's the thing, I don't want to see all that. That was personal when he do it, because we're very different. So we're talking, we see a nutritionist. We do strength conditioning to see what we going to do. With him, he's kind of taking a lot of time trying to get better. He's trying to do a lot of things. But we're throwing that out. After that fight, I'll be able to have more time for we have that conversation.

KEVIN IOLE: Awesome. This young man, Gilbert Burns, you will see him on February 13th in Las Vegas. UFC 258, he will be fighting Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title. Gilbert, always good to see you. Always good to talk to you. Best of luck to you. Thank you for joining me.

GILBERT BURNS: Appreciate you having me. Have a good one, brother.

KEVIN IOLE: Be well, brother. See ya.