Welterweight remains Kamaru Usman’s world.
The champion overcame a strong first round from former Sanford MMA training partner and teammate Gilbert Burns, storming back behind a stinging jab to score a TKO at 34 seconds of the third round in the UFC 258 headliner on Saturday at UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
“This one was a tough one, a very, very tough one because [of] the whole gym situation, me leaving,” Usman, who departed Florida-based Sanford to train in Colorado with Trevor Wittman ahead of this fight, said in the post-fight interview during the pay-per-view broadcast.
Emotions bled out in the aftermath of the stoppage, which came when Usman (18-1, nine finishes) dropped Burns (19-4, 14 finishes) with another of his laser-like jabs and followed up with a barrage of standing lefts and rights to his downed former teammate. Burns sobbed after coming up short in his first opportunity to claim UFC gold.
“I knew he hits hard,” Usman said. “The funny thing is, that’s the majority of how our sparring went. If I threw one, he’d counter heavy with shots. And he buzzed me. For a guy that was a lightweight and moved up, he’s got so much power in those hands.”
The win for Usman — who grew up in the U.S. after moving from Nigeria as a child — marked his 13th in a row in the octagon, including the last three as the defending champion at 170 pounds.
Burns had Usman in trouble in a hurry. The Brazilian dropped the champ with a power shot barely 30 seconds into the fight. After bouncing back up, Usman cleared the cobwebs for a few minutes while landing standing kicks to Burns, who was on his back inviting the opportunity to grapple. But the power punches sealed the round on the judges’ cards for Burns.
“He caught me in the first round with one of those big hooks, kind of behind the ear,” Usman said. “And I felt it.”
Usman finally put it together in the second on the strength of a lightning-fast jab. A straight right turned the tide as they settled back in, stinging Burns and forcing him back up against the fence. The champ again had his former teammate in trouble, dropping him with a jab with just over a minute to go and claiming the second on the scorecards.
Already in trouble entering the third frame, Burns again ate a crisp jab that put him on his back as Usman swarmed, forcing the referee to call a halt to the action.
After the decision was read, the two shared a long embrace and a private conversation.
“We started together,” Usman said of his former teammate. “We started this journey together, and he showed it tonight. He went in there, put it all together.”
But then the champ, who hasn’t lost since his second pro fight in 2013, hearkened back to a high school-rooted theme he had referenced in the lead-up to this clash of familiar foes.
“But I said it, man: I’m the varsity guy.”