UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will once again put his 170-pound title on the line in the main event of UFC 251 on July 11 from Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, but this time, the scenario is rather unique as Usman will be taking on longtime teammate Gilbert Burns.
Aside from the obvious awkwardness that comes with fighting a training partner, a matchup like this also raises questions about how the two fighters will prepare for the bout given that they are accustomed to working alongside each other in the gym.
According to ESPN, Usman has elected to change camps for the upcoming bout, as he will now be training under Trevor Wittman, known for working with interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and former strawweight titleholder Rose Namajunas, in Denver as opposed to training under Henri Hooft in Florida.
“Florida was the base for a long time, but you grow from there,” Usman said. “We always had a ton of guys, some of the best training partners out there, and some great coaches.
“But I wanted a little more specific attention at this point in my career — someone to be able to say, ‘You’re going to come in at this time and work on this particular skill.’ It’s very tough to do that when there are 40 to 50 guys in the room with you, who also need to get attention.”
Burns, meanwhile, will be training with the Sanford MMA Team in Florida, although the Brazilian said that Hooft won’t be involved with the preparation or with the fight itself. Ultimately, not much has changed for “Durinho” aside from the fact that he finds it a ‘little weird’ to be fighting Usman, who has even cornered him on multiple occasions.
“Our main coach, Henri Hooft, he stepped out,” Burns told ESPN. “He said, ‘I don’t want to go either way. I don’t want to pick a side. You guys train. I’ll be here at the gym. If you want to train here, we can train. But I’m not going to the fight.’
“For me, it doesn’t change too much. It’s just a little weird to fight Kamaru. I really like the guy a lot. We’ve trained together since 2012 or 2013, so we’ve put a lot of time together.”
In terms of the fight itself, UFC 251’s headliner represents an incredibly intriguing bout given the recent success and respective skillsets of both Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns.
Usman, for example, is riding a 15-fight win streak that includes a one-sided title-winning victory over Tyron Woodley last March and a fifth-round stoppage victory over Colby Covington in a back-and-forth war late last year. Burns, meanwhile, has won six consecutive bouts and has been on a tear since returning to welterweight last year, winning four-straight and dominating the likes of Demian Maia and Woodley.
In addition to Usman vs. Burns, UFC 251 will feature two other title fights, as Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway will rematch for the featherweight title, and Petr Yan and Jose Aldo will do battle for the vacant 135-pound championship.
Long Island-based sports writer covering MMA, Boxing, and the New York Jets.