Two long time teammates in Gilbert Burns and Kamaru Usman, are set to face-off for the UFC welterweight title in the main event for UFC 251, taking place on Saturday July 11 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
Ahead of the fight, Burns spoke with ESPN to give an update on how training camp has been, and how he and Usman plan to do their training leading up to UFC 251, being that they both come from the same gym and share many of the same training partners and coaches.
“So our main coach, Henry Hooft, he stepped out. (Hooft) said, ‘I don’t want to go either way I’m not gonna pick a side. You guys train. I’ll be here at the gym if you guys wanna train here. But I’m not going to the fight.’ And Kamaru is in Colorado right now. Trevor Whitman, (and) Justin Gaethje are doing his camp over there. Even if it wasn’t me (fighting him next) I think he had that plan to go out there and do his camp there,” Burns said to ESPN’s, Phil Murphy.
“For me it doesn’t change that much, it’s just a little weird to fight Kamaru because I really like the guy a lot,” Burns added. “We’ve been training together since 2012 or 2013 so we’ve spent a lot of time together but he holds the belt, I wanna be the champion, I got to face Kamaru and I gotta beat Kamaru to become a champion. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing on July 11.”
As UFC 251 approaches, there is no loss of respect between the now former training partners. However Burns believes that it is now his time to get the welterweight strap.
“A lot of respect for Kamaru. He’s the champion but now it’s my time. It’s Gilbert Burns time. I’ve been running through the (welterweight) division ever since I (moved) up to welterweight in no time.”
Following the Burns interview where he broke news that Usman had left Florida to go train in Colorado ahead of the fight, ESPN’s Brett Okomoto spoke with Usman to get his take on switching gyms ahead of UFC 251.
“Florida was the base for a long time, but you grow from there,” Usman told ESPN. “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.”
“I think eventually I would have changed things up anyway,” Usman said. “We had a lot of welterweights at that gym. At some point, when you’re training with these guys on a daily basis and you’re the champion of the world, these guys know you in and out and if they get the better of you one day, they’re licking their chops thinking it’s their time. A little separation from that is good. It keeps that element of surprise, because these guys feel like they know you.
“One thing I firmly believe is that it’s my work. You can be with a great coach, but if you’re not putting the effort in, that coach isn’t going to help you win. That coach isn’t going to get in and fight for you. I know I put the work in.”