Before last night’s main event in Las Vegas – the narrative for Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns, was largely the potential changing of a welterweight guard. The Brazilian had scored three straight wins since his move back to 170-pounds, and during the absence of former champion, Tyron Woodley had developed into one of the most promising challengers.
For Woodley – reinvigoration surrounded his story, following a fifteen-month layoff. For five fights, the 38-year-old had dominated the division as titleholder, before running into Burns’ teammate, Kamaru Usman last year in one of the most one-sided title defeats in recent Octagon history.
A three-time IBJJF world champion – the grappling credentials of Burns are common knowledge, however, it’s his striking that’s becoming arguably his most dangerous tools – evident inside the opening minute or so. A lightning-fast combination, blitz forced Woodley to retreat, before he was dropped with a left uppercut. Respect gained in a timely, and damaging fashion.
In between a fourth-round dropping, Burns had thrown caution into the wind, with a pressing, yet completely composed approach – to one of the most devastating, explosive right hands in the division. Even with the tie comfortably within his grasp, the Henri Hooft mainstay still had Woodley pinned to the fence with offence, and clinch work where necessary. Last night was a play from the book of Hooft – who marshalled Usman to a similar shutout over five-rounds at UFC 235.
Burns will most certainly leapfrog the majority of his welterweight counterparts upon the release of the official rankings on Tuesday and has already made his claim for a title opportunity against training partner, Usman. He’s there, or thereabouts I believe. For Woodley – its time to reassess again, and not just in terms of his possible next opponent. The Roufusport trainee has failed drastically to let his hands go for ten consecutive rounds at this stage and appears a far cry from the force that dethroned Robbie Lawler back in the summer of 2016 and finished Darren Till in September of 2018. Below, I play matchmaker in a now further developed welterweight pile.
Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns:
Last night’s performance from Burns warrants a title shot there’s no doubt, but it also adds to the further logjam at 170-pounds. Usman is juggling his options at the moment, as negotiations for a summer pairing with developing enemy, Jorge Masvidal stalled in recent weeks. Leon Edwards has lodged eight consecutive victories at welterweight – but he’s missing a real statement name to stake his claim just yet.
Apart from Usman, and now Burns – Woodley has been untouched since June of 2014 – when he faltered in a unanimous decision defeat to recent PFL signee, Rory MacDonald. Taking a result against the division’s #1 contender is certainly no mean feat – an accomplishment which can’t be denied when you’re faced with the task of setting the table for the next welterweight title pairing.
Gilbert Burns vs. Leon Edwards:
Woodley vs. Burns could very well turn out to be a title-eliminator at 170-pounds, however, leaving Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards out of that conversation altogether, just seems inherently wrong. Yes, he may be missing a real major victory since last July when he took a judging triumph over former lightweight best, Rafael dos Anjos, but there’s simply no looking past eight-straight wins. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic scrapped a pairing of Woodley and Edwards at UFC Fight Night London in March, robbing the Birmingham based all-rounder of that opportunity, further.
Rio de Janeiro native Burns is also the type that’ll elect against an extended period on the sidelines, so if he gets overlooked at this time of asking in regards to a title shot – expect further activity from the contender this summer. UFC president, Dana White maintained the organization were interested in featuring Edwards on ‘Fight Island’ this summer as well. Denying either of these two a title opportunity would be a major mishap, but given the current lie and era at welterweight – a definite title-eliminator may be forced.
Tyron Woodley vs. Colby Covington:
This fight isn’t going anywhere that’s for sure. Covington has long pursued a pairing with arch-rival Woodley since his initial rise after defeating Demian Maia back in 2017 when Woodley still reigned supreme at the top of the stack. Both are at two very altering crossroads in their respective careers. Woodley must reset and take an honest look at his current situation. On the other hand, Covington has just parted ways with American Top Team after drawing some major criticism from teammates and needs to bounce back from a fifth-round title challenge loss to Usman in December.
Covington’s pressing style which completely stifled the aforementioned Lawler back in August of last year is going to force Woodley to engage – or he’ll simply end up on the wrong end a unanimous decision shutout for a third consecutive outing. Sure, Woodley and Usman, and Burns shared some barbs ahead of their respective outings, but the animosity here has been brewing for years, and more importantly, it’s real.