It is one of the most fascinating stories in combat sports. Teammate against teammate. Friends have become enemies.
In MMA, it is common for teammates to fight each other: Usually they refuse to do so unless there is a championship belt involved. Well, there’s a belt in play at UFC 258 on Saturday.
Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (17-1) defends his title against longtime teammate Gilbert Burns (19-3) this weekend at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. They were with the Blackzilians from 2012 to 2020, then with MMA in Sanford, South Florida. Only after their game last spring did Usman leave to train with coach Trevor Wittman in Denver.
Kamaru Usman defends his UFC Welterweight Championship title against Gilbert Burns to open a six-fight, six-title series on three pay-per-view cards.
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CFU 258: Usman vs Burns
– Saturday 13. February, UFC Apex, Las Vegas- Main Card 22:00 ET on ESPN+ PPV- Preliminaries: 8:00 PM ET on ESPN/ESPN+- Preliminaries: 7:00 PM ET on ESPN+.
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In a fight between former teammates, there are varying degrees of betrayal. It’s not hard to find examples of how it gets ugly. A few years ago, Tito Ortiz felt Chuck Liddell punch him in the back as Liddell fought for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship title. Rashad Evans thought his Jackson Wink MMA team had traded him for a younger phenom, Jon Jones, in 2011.
There were no frictions between Usman and Burns when he competed at UFC 258, but as you can imagine, the relationship has changed. Even if they remain friends after Saturday, they will try to take away each other’s UFC title – and everything that comes with it (symbolically and financially) – in 25 minutes.
And for Usman, this title fight is extra important after a slow five-round defense against Jorge Masvidal at UFC 251. Usman is not a true star yet, so any chance to beat an established star (like Masvidal) is a chance to build his name recognition. Instead, many fans were unhappy with the conservative game plan Usman used in this fight.
If Usman beats Burns, he will have several high-profile fights in the future, including counter-attacks against Masvidal and his biggest opponent, Colby Covington, as well as a fight against Breakthrough 2020 star Hamzat Chimaev.
It could be a lucrative plan, but for that to happen, Usman must remain champions. And on Saturday, the man known as Nightmare will have to go up against a welterweight who knows him better than anyone.
ESPN statistics and information
0 : Brazilians who became UFC Welterweight Champions. It is the only male weight class that has never been led by a Brazilian fighter. Burns is trying to accomplish what Demian Maia, Thiago Alves, Andre Pederneiras and Jorge Patino failed to do in their fight for the title at 170 pounds.
2: Second Usman was on the mat in his 12 UFC ground fights. This is the shortest total time in welterweight history, which is significant considering this weekend’s opponent became a four-time World Grappling Champion. Usman’s 54.3% control time is the fourth fastest time in the 170-pound division.
1.93 : Burns absorbed per minute in the octagon, the lowest rate among active weightlifters.
2: Fighters who began their careers in the UFC with a longer win streak than Usman, who is 12-0 inside the Octagon. Anderson Silva made his UFC debut with a 16-0 scoring record, losing to Chris Weidman in 2013. Khabib Nurmagomedov lost 13-0 before announcing his retirement in October.
18: of the two fighters in a row together. Usman’s string of 12 wins ties him with the famous Georges St-Pierre for the longest streak in welterweight history. Burns has won six fights in a row and the last four since moving up to 170 pounds in 2019.
Sources: ESPN and UFC info and statistics
AND NEW — Kamaru Usman has withdrawn from the 2019 Welterweight Championship following his victory over Tyrone Woodley. Since then, he has defended the belt twice. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Five against five
Latest results for Kamaru Usman
Winning : Jorge Masvidal (UD, July 12, 2020; see ESPN+)
wins : Colby Covington (TKO5, Dec. 14, 2019; see ESPN+)
wins : Tyrone Woodley (UD, March 2, 2019; see ESPN+)
wins : Rafael Dos Anjos (UD, Nov 30, 2018)
win : Demian Maya (UD, May 19, 2018).
Gilbert Burns latest results
Win : Tyrone Woodley (UD, May 30, 2020; see ESPN+)
wins : Demian Maia (TKO1, March 14, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
wins : Gunnar Nelson (UD, September 28, 2019; see ESPN+)
win : Alex Kunchenko (UD, August 10, 2019; shown on ESPN+)
wins : Mike Davis (Sub2, April 27, 2019; watching on ESPN+).
Teammates who have become enemies A brief history
Chuck Liddell has reason to celebrate after defeating Tito Ortiz in the 2006 rematch at UFC 66. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Here are the most obvious examples of how training partners become opponents in the Octagon:
Chuck Liddell vs Tito Ortiz: These former friends have fought twice in two years in the UFC. The rivalry began at UFC 47 in 2004, when Liddell knocked out Ortiz in the second round after a violent fight. In a return match 2½ years later at UFC 66, this time with Liddell as the light heavyweight champion, Liddell again finished Ortiz off with blows. They met for the third time under the Golden Boy boxing banner in 2018, with Liddell retiring at the age of 48. This time, Ortiz, 43, it was TKO.
John Jones vs. Rashad Evans: Jones is just one year removed from his long reign as light heavyweight champion when he takes on former champion and Jackson teammate Vince Evans at UFC 145 in 2012. After months of bloodshed, Jones recorded a unanimous victory over Evans to defend his title for the third time.
Cody Garbrandt v. T.J. Dillashaw: At UFC 217 in 2017, Garbrandt defended his bantamweight title against his former teammate Alpha Male, who left the team with striker trainer Dwayne Ludwig. Dillashaw scored a goal in the second round to win the title. Nine months later, he won a rematch at UFC 227, this time taking out Garbrandt in the first round.
Film studies of house and Gil
Dominic Cruz on how Usman determines his performance:
Gilbert Melendez on what Burns is doing to make openings:
And the winner is……
Gilbert Melendez, MMA analyst at ESPN, a former UFC lightweight who has had successful MMA fighters as training partners throughout his career, focused on the teammate vs. teammate angle. Mr. Melendez writes that we will soon have a better understanding of the dynamics of the battle. Once the bell rings, let’s see if Usman can push Burns up against the cage like he does everyone else. If he stays in the middle of the octagon and keeps himself on the ground, he’s showing that he respects Burns’ grappling hook.
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Brandon Gibson, the coach of the JacksonWink MMA offensive team, believes these two former teammates will give everything they have in goal on Saturday. Burns was on fire. He looks good, Gibson said. The fight against Tyrone Woodley, won unanimously last May, was a near flawless performance. I think Usman’s skills, but more so his size and strength, will determine where the fight will take place. Because these two guys have been training for so long, they know each other very well.
Read what Gibson and other experts had to say by clicking here.
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Saturday fighting card
PPV (via ESPN+), 10pm. ETKamaru Usman (c) vs Gilbert Burns | WelterweightMacey Barber vs Alexa Grasso | WelterweightCelvin Gastelum vs Gilbert Burns | WelterweightCelvin Gastelum vs Alexa Grasso. Ian Heinisch Middleweight Ricky Simon vs. Brian Kelleher Featherweight Maki Pitolo vs. Julian Marquez ESPN/ESPN Deportes/ESPN+, 20:00 ET
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Anthony Hernandez Middleweight
Belal Muhammad vs. Diego Lima Welterweight
Polana Viana vs. Mallory Martin Strawweight
Andre Ewell vs. Chris Gutierrez Lightweight (140 lbs)
ESPN+, 7pm ET
Gabe Green vs. Phil Rowe | Welterweight
(c) = Holder
Three other things to know (based on ESPN statistics and information)
1. Macy Barber, who takes on Alexa Grasso in the co-main event, returns to the Octagon for the first time since tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a fight against Roxanne Modafferi in January 2020. It was the first loss of Barber’s career. The 22-year-old bantamweight is now looking to become the second woman, after Cris Cyborg, to start her UFC career with four KOs in her first five fights.
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2. Kelvin Gastelum, who will take on Ian Heinisch, is coming off a trio of fights, the highest of his career, which began with a narrow defeat to Israel Adesanya in a fight for the interim middleweight title in 2019.
3. Maki Pitolo has two fights under his belt, but his middleweight opponent, Julian Marquez, hasn’t fought since July 2018. Marquez crossed the finish line in his seven career victories.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this preview of the fight.
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