DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. – Gilbert Burns is captivated by the challenge of striking with Stephen Thompson at UFC 264.
Does that mean Burns (19-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) will only try to stand with Thompson (16-4-1 MMA, 11-4-1 UFC) when they meet in their high-stakes welterweight bout in July? No. But he said he’s ensuring he’s ready to do it if necessary, and that includes bringing a secret weapon into his training camp.
“It’s going to be a little different because here at Sanford, we have so much talent, so (many) guys that can help each other,” Burns told MMA Junkie. “For the fight against (Tyron) Woodley, we have a couple guys that have the similar style. For (Kamaru) Usman, it was a little puzzle, but we have a couple guys that can wrestle. We don’t have a lot of karate guys. The only different thing that I’m doing is I’m bringing a couple karate guys that know the style.
“One guy – I cannot say the name, but he’s going to be the key for this fight. He can make that style even better. So I’m going to look to bring a couple karate guys just to get used to that distance, to the timing, to the style. Only difference is I’m going to bring guys in from out of the camp.”
UFC 264 takes place July 10 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.
The matchup with “Wonderboy” will mark Burns’ return to the octagon after coming up short in his title fight with Usman at UFC 258 in February. He suffered a third-round TKO loss in the bout, which snapped his six-fight winning streak.
He’s trying to rebuild toward a second title shot, and fighting an established and highly ranked contender like Thompson is a good way to do it.
The Brazilian said he was ready for any top name at 170 pounds, but he likes this matchup in particular because it gives him a chance to redeem a loss for his good friend and training partner Vicente Luque, who lost to Thompson at UFC 244 in November 2019.
“It was offered to a lot of guys, to all the top five guys not counting Usman and Masvidal,” Burns said. “But all the other guys, it was offered. He was the only one who said yes. … I like it. I think he’s a very tough opponent and I know him pretty well because I was cornering Vicente Luque when he beat Luque and I still want to revenge my friend. It’s going to be a good one.”
Thompson is historically one of the trickiest puzzles to solve in the welterweight division. He rarely gets stopped, and wins far more often than he loses. His karate-based striking style is something that gives many opponents fits, and Burns, 34, said he likes the idea of testing himself in that position.
“I like the challenge,” Burns said. “For sure, I’m going to keep my jiu-jitsu as crisp as I can get. … My jiu-jitsu is on point, but I’ve got a couple new toys and I like to play in that game, too. I think he’s got high-level striking. I don’t know. I’m going to be ready for a lot of things in that fight.”
If Burns can pull off the victory at UFC 264, he would be back on an upward trajectory in his weight class. Most signs point to Colby Covington getting the next title fight with Usman, and in the meantime Burns plans to do his own thing and rack up wins so he can get back in that position again.
“To be honest, I think (beat) ‘Wonderboy’ and then one more,” Burns said. “I’m not even thinking too much. I’m just thinking ‘Wonderboy’ fight: Perform my best. (It’s a) great challenge, and then we’ll see. I believe one more fight.”