Gilbert Burns of Brazil reacts after defeating Mike Davis during their lightweight bout at UFC Fight Night

In the last few years, there has been a significant shift in attitudes towards weight cutting in MMA.

While the days of fighters completely draining themselves are certainly not behind us (just weeks ago, Aspen Ladd appeared close to collapsing moments before her official weigh-in), many athletes have started to prioritize their own physical health over possessing a size advantage on fight night.

One man set to follow this trend is Gilbert Burns, who will step in to face Alexey Kunchenko on short-notice at UFC Uruguay this Saturday. Burns made his UFC debut at welterweight back in 2014 but has since entered the Octagon ten times at lightweight; this weekend, he will return to the ranks of the UFC’s 170-pound division. The Brazillian recently spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock and explained this is a move that has been a long time coming.

“In my last fight, my doctor was with me and my nutritionist, and usually he’s with me during the whole camp and not the cut, but last time he saw the cut. I made it, but it was a hard cut for the Mike Davis fight back at UFC Sunrise, and he didn’t like it at all. So, I started talking to my coach and my wife, and she made me make the decision! Now I feel good, I was already training, the opportunity showed up, and I said let’s go!”

“I think now is the time, I’ve been making a lot of changes in my career, and I knew one day I would move up. Now is the time.”

When asked which of his weight cuts were the most difficult, Burns had no shortage of examples. In particular, “Durinho” detailed one case where, prior to his 2016 bout with Michel Prazeres, who missed weight himself, he felt his whole body seizing up even after the cut was over.

“I remember the fight with Prazares in Brazil; the weight cut was hard. I lost the fight, and I don’t want to make any excuse, but after the cut, I cramped so much over 45 minutes. The UFC doctors showed up and almost took me out of the fight, but I still wanted to fight. So I ended up fighting.”

“Dan Hooker was hard; Dan Moret was hard too, I almost missed for that one. Bad cuts really affect recovery and stamina. I’d been training great for all those fights, but the cut really affected my performance.”

Short-notice statement

At UFC Uruguay, Alexey Kunchenko was initially slated to face Laureano Staropoli. However, an injury sustained by the 8-1 Argentinian created an opening and Burns, who had already decided on a move up to welterweight, was only too happy to fill the vacancy.

While “Durinho” was hoping for a bout against UFC legend Diego Sanchez, the opportunity to face the undefeated Kunchenko was too good for Burns to turn down.

“I was driving my son to a tournament in Orlando, and I heard on the radio about UFC Mexico, and I thought that I would love to fight Diego Sanchez in Mexico. So, I texted my agent Ali, and he thought it would be a great fight, so he emailed Sean Shelby and he replied right away, saying ‘Yeah, that sounds good, but I have a fight for Gilbert right now at UFC Uruguay’.”

“When I saw that, I thought, yeah, I’ve been training a lot, I think I can do this. I started calling my coaches, and they all thought I could do it as well, so I thought, let’s go!”

Preparing the “Ruthless” one

Burns had not been in camp prior to receiving the call-up for UFC Uruguay. However, like many fighters, he’s always in training and was helping Hard Knocks 365 teammate Robbie Lawler in preparation for his recent bout with Colby Covington.

While Lawler’s camp was ultimately an unsuccessful one, as he wound up losing to Covington via a dominant decision, for Burns it was an ideal start to his own camp. This provided “Durinho” with valuable rounds against one of the most fearsome strikers in UFC history and also allowed him to improve his conditioning, weeks before even entering camp.

“Especially in this camp, I’ve been grappling so much. One of the reasons I said yes to this fight is that three weeks ago, Robbie Lawler asked me to help him get ready for his fight against Colby Covington. I wasn’t sparring that much, but when Robbie asked, I was sparring with him two or three rounds every Tuesday and Thursday for a few weeks. I was feeling a little off in the first week, but after that, I was getting much better.”

“The thing is, I was already doing Colby Covington’s game against Robbie, so it’s kind of the perfect scenario and the feedback I’ve had from the coaches has been great.”

Alexey Kunchenko will enter this bout as a slight favorite and will be putting his undefeated record on the line in the UFC octagon once again. However, Burns feels that the Russian is a favorable stylistic match-up and possesses skills similar to those “Durinho” has trained against for years. This is a prospect he seems truly excited about.

“Our strategies are very clear, we understand [Kunchenko’s] weaknesses, strengths and the areas that I need to work on more… He’s the style we train at this gym and I really like it, I’m used to that kind of style and I like going against that type of fighter. I feel very comfortable, I know he’s technical and has a lot of power, but I can’t wait to be there.”

Targeting the top

Despite still being in its relative infancy, Hard Knocks 365 has quickly established itself as one of the premier MMA gyms in the world. Earlier this year, Kamaru Usman became the gyms first UFC champion, while ONE Championship’s Aung La Nsang and Martin Nguyen are also regulars at the gym.

Burns believes that with such talent around him, and coaches including Henri Hooft, Kami Barzini and Greg Jones, he can absolutely make his way up the stacked 170-pound division.

“I believe in the work that I do, the people around me. I have a system and I put a lot of people into that system with my conditioning, physio’s, coaches, training partners. I’ve been doing so much that gives me a lot of confidence that moving up a division, I don’t feel much pressure. Guys like Kamaru, Vicente, Logan Storley, Robbie Lawler, Tyler Reid, they’re the guys I was working with at 155-pounds.”

“I think people will pay attention after this fight and I think it will open a lot of eyes, not just from the UFC but for fans and the MMA media all around.”

The welterweight wrestlers

The UFC’s welterweight division, perhaps more than any other in the promotion, possesses a wealth of outstanding grapplers from a variety of different backgrounds.

Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman have both demonstrated phenomenal MMA grappling pedigree, Ben Askren is among the most highly decorated wrestlers to ever set foot in the UFC octagon while Demian Maia holds countless Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials and is considered one of the promotions best jiu-jitsu practitioners ever.

The prospect of facing some of these men is an exciting one for Burns, who is a decorated jiu-jitsu competitor himself. In particular, a bout against Demian Maia in Brazil would excite “Durinho” immensely, as would fights against Kevin Lee and Michael Chiesa, two other former lightweights who have joined the 170-pound division.

“I think it would be a great pleasure to face a guy like Demian Maia. He’s a real martial artist, a very respectful guy; that would be a nice fight. There are so many at welterweight, I’d have a make a list. Especially the grapplers, Kevin Lee, Michael Chiesa, Demian Maia, Ben Askren; they’re like dream match-ups for me, I’ll fight those guys right now.”

Gilbert Burns faces Alexey Kunchenko at UFC Fight Night: Shevchenko vs. Carmouche 2, to take place at the Antel Arena in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The card is headlined by a rematch for the Women’s Flyweight title, between champion Valentina Shevchenko and Liz Carmouche, who is the only woman to finish Shevchenko in MMA competition.

The co-main event sees Vicente Luque, a teammate of Gilbert Burns, take on fan favorite, Mike Perry in a bout that will almost certainly come to a violent conclusion. Other bouts on the main card include a rescheduled light heavyweight contest between Volkan Oezdemir and Ilir Latifi, as well as a featherweight showdown between Enrique Barzola and Bobby Moffett.

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