LAS VEGAS — It’s true that after UFC welterweight Kamaru Usman’s last two title defenses — A highly charged finish of controversial Colby Covington and the circus atmosphere surrounding his one-sided, short-notice win over Jorge Masvidal — his upcoming UFC 258 title fight against Gilbert Burns is as drama-free as it gets.
That’s because the two former training partners maintain a respectful stance towards one another.
But while Usman (17-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC) returns the respect Burns (19-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) sends his way, he has another way of looking at things: Burns wants what Usman has. And in that way, that makes this fight as personal to Usman as any.
“The paycheck is always nice when you have a circus like the last one and the one before that, but you know, this one, a lot of people are writing us up like friends and teammates fighting each other,” Usman said. At the end of the day I don’t see this anybody, there’s no friends in there.”
“What could be more personal than someone you train with every day saying ‘I see what you have, I want that, I’m going to take that from you?’,” he added. “What could be more personal than that? So each and every one of these I approach the same.”
That said, you can be sure Usman will take Burns seriously when they step into the octagon Saturday night. Burns hasn’t clowned his way to hype like Covington or become a supernova like Masvidal. Burns has earned his spot the old-fashioned way, winning six in a row and eight of his past nine, to get himself into the cage with Usman.
And the champ recognizes the challenger’s game, even if he isn’t about to call him a friend at the moment.
“We hadn’t really trained a lot in the last couple years,” Usman said. “I think it does go away a little bit because he’s going to try hard, and I’m going to go in and get what I always do. … I like the fact he’s got all this confidence going into this. I like it. He’s put the work in the last year and a half. He’s done some good work and I see this and I recognize that. We both know.”
UFC 258 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
To hear more from Usman, watch the video above.