Amid a five-fight winning streak with three of his victories at 170 pounds, the Brazilian was calling out just about anybody ranked ahead of him in his ultimate pursuit of the title. When the UFC London card fell apart due to the coronavirus pandemic and Leon Edwards was unable to travel to the United State for a rescheduled event, Burns jumped on the opportunity to face Woodley on short notice.
Almost two months later, Burns will finally get the chance to meet Woodley in the main event at UFC on ESPN 9. But as much as he wanted this fight, he’s confident the former 170-pound king wanted nothing to do with it.
“I believe I’m a bad matchup for Tyron Woodley,” Burns explained in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I think I have power in my hands, same as he does. I believe I can stand up. I can defend his takedowns, and even if he does take me down, it’s not going to be easy. But if he does take me down, he’s in my world. A lot of you haven’t seen much but you saw some with Demian [Maia], the guy that puts everybody on the floor and takes the back or puts everybody on the floor and takes control, he did that on me and I was just out quick. I have my jiu-jitsu, and I’m very comfortable with my jiu-jitsu.
“I believe I’m a bad matchup. That’s why since the beginning, he didn’t want this fight. I’m ready for the best Tyron, but I truly believe in every single weapon I have, and I believe I’m going to have a great performance.”
Prior to this main event being booked, Woodley tried to score a fight against former interim champion Colby Covington after they shared a heated rivalry for the past two years. Burns, though, believes that fight was always more fantasy than reality. In the end, he said, Woodley had no other option available but to sign onto the fight on Saturday night.
“I was asking for the fight a lot and to be honest, no one was available,” Burns said. “Nobody. I think maybe [Rafael dos Anjos] was available, but nobody else was available. Colby [Covington], he’s got something wrong with his hand. I know he trains MMA at [American Top Team], and I know his hand is not good. So Colby’s not available. Leon [Edwards] is in England. [Jorge] Masvidal might fight [Kamaru] Usman. ‘Wonderboy’ [Stephen Thompson], his hand is hurt and then you’ve got me. Demian Maia’s in Brazil right now, and Michael Chiesa’s not training.
“Those fights don’t make sense. I think the only guys available were me and RDA. He’s got no choice. If he wants to fight, that’s me. That’s the guy available.”
On paper, Burns understands Woodley’s trepidation about fighting him because there’s an inherent risk with this matchup without nearly as much to gain.
“For sure he was avoiding that,” Burns said. “I see that if he beats me, ‘Oh he beat Gilbert, the guy just got in the top-10.’ But if I beat him the way that I believe the fight’s going to happen with me beating Tyron Woodley, it’s going to be a disaster for him.
“It’s going to be hard for him to get another fight for the title. I’m very confident. My last fight was in March. His last fight was in March 2019, and he got his ass whooped. I fought in March and I won. I’m younger. I’m hungry. I’m fighting the best in the world. I train with the best in the world. I’m very confident right now.”
While Burns has quietly built himself into a legitimate threat to the best fighters in the welterweight division, he’s seen Woodley sitting on the sidelines for the past 14 months. No matter the reason, he can’t understand what Woodley has been thinking – and he’s not going to try to get inside his head to figure it out. He just knows there will be a momentous shift in the welterweight division after Saturday night.
“I think it will be hard to compete with a guy that is very hungry,” Burns said. “A guy that has a lot of will. OK, he’s got a right hand, but guess what? I’ve got a right hand and a left hand and I’ve got my jiu-jitsu and I’ve got heart. I’m going to come forward.
“Everything that you had to be the champion, well, now I want to be the champion. It’s hard to say what he wants, but I’m very hungry to get there. I don’t need a Mike Tyson video to get me hyped up. I don’t need to see that. I wake up hyped up. I’ve got motivation to train. I want to be the best.”
Any win over Woodley would be huge for Burns, but after a first-round finish of Demian Maia, he hopes to add an ex-champ onto his resume in his first UFC main event.
“I’m going to finish him,” Burns said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be knockout or a submission, but I see a finish. It was good to grapple with Jake Shields and Demian, to train with Usman, to get feedback from these guys for Woodley.
“I can’t wait to fight this guy. I believe I’ll be able to finish Tyron Woodley.”