Gilbert Burns left it all in the Octagon.
For six years, Burns fought his way to the top, going through the countless highs and lows of the fight game, and the 34-year-old Brazilian let tears stream down his face and as he expressed his disappointment following his UFC 258 loss to Kamaru Usman in February. His raw emotion revealed just how important this moment was to him, and as he laid on the canvas, he found himself at a new low.
The loss, although heartbreaking, also gave Burns a chance to hit the reset button and get back to being himself.
“I know exactly who I am. I know my capabilities and my coaches know me as well,” Burns told UFC.com. “The public, maybe the fans need to see that a little bit, but I don’t need to prove [anything] though. I just need to be there with my mindset, calm and relaxed, and I’ll be able to execute my best and maybe prove again that I’m at the top of the division and I’ll be champion soon. I know who I am.”
Burns’ opportunity to get back to the top comes against perennial contender Stephen Thompson in the co-main event of UFC 264 this Saturday. A sold-out crowd will pack T-Mobile Arena that night and provide an atmosphere that Burns expects to be “insane.” On top of that, Burns couldn’t be more excited to fight Thompson, someone who, in his eyes, is one of the toughest guys to fight in the division.
Burns believes a win over Thompson helps put him back in the welterweight title conversation and, more importantly, reinforces his belief that he is the true top contender in the division.
“[Beating Thompson] puts me right back in the picture and I’m not even looking forward past that fight. I’m just looking forward to the fight. I want to fight Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, I want to solve that puzzle, and I want to just be at the top of the division again,” Burns said. “I know I need a couple more fights to get another title shot, but I’m not even thinking about that right now. I’m just enjoying the process. I want to beat Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, then after we will see, but I’m right there. I’m going to be top two, maybe number one contender. I’ll be right there.”
The term “puzzle” is one that is frequently used to describe Thompson, and for good reason. The 38-year-old karate fighter has used his incredible striking to bamboozle UFC welterweights for almost 10 years. Burns knows that in order to beat him, he will have to have an impressive and near flawless performance.
“Styles make fights and he’s very unpredictable. Even my style, I’m a born grappler but I can strike as well, and I believe that’s what makes me very dangerous in the division because I can end the fight on the feet or end the fight if I take those guys down or if they take me down,” Burns said. “So, with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, he’s a guy that is very, very technical, and he’s dangerous on his feet and he’s looked very good in his last fights. I like his style. It’s very different, so people got to watch this fight because I can finish the fight on my feet, but do I want to stay on my feet with “Wonderboy”? Or do I want him to take him down? If you don’t know, you better watch to see.”
A smile breaks through on Burns’ face as he thinks about the options he has in his UFC 264 matchup. That smile is something that took some time to come back after losing to Usman, but now that it’s back, he can’t wait to just be himself inside that Octagon.
“I’ve been putting so many hours into how I’m working; people saw how emotional I got at the end of my fight, and that’s just because of how much work I put in,” Burns said. “I think I’m going to beat Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson because I’m going to be very calm, more collected and we already made a good strategy that I believe we are going to be able to execute. I think I just got to be myself with just a little more control, be a little calmer and I can beat not only Stephen Thompson, but anyone in the division.”
Make sure you watch Gilbert Burns face Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in the UFC 264 co-main event. The PPV main card starts at 10pm ET / 7pm PT. Order UFC 264: Poirier vs McGregor 3 here.