UFC President Dana White pointed to a lot of good attributes in welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. But perhaps the one that counted the most was his physical toughness against Gilbert Burns in the early goings of UFC 258.
“For all the attributes that Usman has, his chin is probably his best one,” White told reporters at the post-fight press conference for Saturday’s pay-per-view event. “This guy’s got a chin from hell. He took some big shots tonight and just kept coming forward.
“I was just talking to him there, and he said, ‘[Burns] buzzed me with that first shot, but I’ve been there with him before.’ He said he used to get hit with that punch when they used to spar, and basically it just made him mad, and he said, ‘I’m going to finish him.’”
Usman and Burns, of course, spent countless hours in the gym as training partners in the now-defunct Blackzilians and Sanford MMA. Although Burns appeared to get the better of his ex-partner in the early stages of the fight, Usman came back in the second and returned the favor with a knockdown. Burns never fully recovered and was dropped by a jab in the third before getting finished off with a series of punches.
Burns admitted afterward that he got a little too excited after hurting Usman early and lost sight of the winning strategy. Usman downplayed the severity of the punches that connected in the opening frame.
“I wasn’t necessarily hurt,” he said. “I was just kind of a little off-balance. The cage was slippery, and I kept pouring water on the ground, because it was very slippery in there. But it was a funny thing, because that’s exactly how our sparring went. He was a lightweight coming up, but he’s got big, big power in his hands, and he’s a hooker. Anybody else in the division, they get caught with one of those hooks, they’re going to sleep.
“But I’m a champion for a reason, and I recompose better than anybody. So I just had to recompose myself and listen to my coaches, and not rush it. I just had to stick with the game plan.”
With his win, Usman broke former welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre’s record for most consecutive wins in the 170-pound division at 13. He immediately called for a rematch with Jorge Masvidal, with a potential turn on “The Ultimate Fighter” subsequently suggested by reps on both sides.
With so many notches on his welterweight belt, Usman might have to get used to the idea of rematches. But he passed another big hurdle in just his third title defense.
“For the people that actually know about fighting, they know that this win was a big deal over a very motivated, well-trained, mentally tough, confident, badass kid,” White said.