- Kamaru Usman will defend his welterweight title against Gilbert Burns at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi on July 11th
- The early odds set the champ as a sizable favorite, despite Burns demolishing Tyron Woodley in May
- How will the odds shift as the UFC’s first “Fight Island” event approaches?
UFC president Dana White announced the inauguration of “Fight Island” with a bang. In a two-week period from July 11th to 25th, the promotion will hold four events on Yas Island, just off Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The first of those events will be UFC 251 which features a stacked card of three title fights.
After Peter Yan meets Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight title and Alexander Volkanovski defends his featherweight strap against Max Holloway, the main event will see Kamaru Usman (16-1, 7 KOs, 1 sub.) making his second welterweight title defense against Gilbert Burns (19-3, 6 KOs, 8 subs.).
Kamaru Usman vs Gilbert Burns Opening Odds
|Kamaru Usman (C)||-200|
Odds as of June 9th.
The entire “Fight Island” concept was set up in order to accommodate fighters who cannot enter the United States due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Usman’s Recent Fights
The champion hasn’t stepped into the octagon since Dec. 2019, long before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the UFC’s operations. This will be his first fight in front of zero fanfare.
Usman’s last fight was a 4.5-round war with Colby Covington. Usman won by fifth-round TKO, dropping the challenger with a straight right and then finishing the bout via ground-and-pound.
All in all, Usman outlanded Covington 175-143 in the stand-up battle. He didn’t look invincible, though. One judge actually scored the first four rounds 3-1 in favor of Covington. Another had it 2-2, while the third had it 3-1 for Usman.
Most experts agree that Usman deserved to be ahead going into the fifth round, but it was still far from the dominant showing Usman put on to win the title from Tyron Woodley back in March 2019. Usman scored the only two takedowns in that bout and outlanded the former champion by a staggering 141-34 count.
Usman’s win over Covington ran the Nigerian’s streak to 15 straight and improved his UFC record to a still-perfect 11-0 (counting his win on The Ultimate Fighter over Hayder Hassan). It was the fourth straight fight in which the 33-year-old went past four rounds and his cardio looked as good as ever.
The stoppage put an end to a string of four straight unanimous decisions.
Burns’ Recent Fights
Burns has been the more active fighter and he has already fought twice in front of empty crowds. First, he TKOed Demian Maia in the first round at Fight Night 170 on March 14th. He followed that up with the most impressive win of his career, dominating former champion Woodley on May 30th.
The Woodley fight went the distance but there was no doubt about the decision. All three judges scored every round for Burns (50-45, 50-44, 50-44). The stats were markedly similar to Woodley’s fight with Usman, albeit with less activity. Burns outlanded Woodley 83-28 and landed the only two takedowns.
A former lightweight, the 33-year-old Brazilian has looked considerably more comfortable at 170 pounds. He’s 4-0 since returning to his more natural weight class in August 2019. But his stopping power at 170 is dubious. While only five of his 19 career wins have come by decision, three of those came in his four most-recent fights at welterweight.
How Will the Odds Move?
It’s tempting to say that, based on Burns being the more active fighter and scoring the more dominant win in his last fight, the odds will swing in favor of the underdog.
Unfortunately for Burns, the “Nigerian Nightmare” is a matchup nightmare for him (as he is for most fighters). Usman’s wrestling pedigree and superior athleticism will allow him to control where the fight takes place. If he isn’t getting the better of the striking, he’ll capitalize on Burns’ suspect 50% takedown defense to put the fight on the mat.
If Usman is getting the better of the striking, he’ll make sure Burns won’t bring the fight to an area where his BJJ black belt can be put to use. Usman has, quite literally, never been taken down in the UFC. Burns’ average-at-best power at welterweight seriously attenuates the chances for a knockout.
I predict Usman enters the octagon shorter than -200. If I was keen to bet him – which I might be – I’d get my money down sooner rather than later.