After a dominant, one-round submission victory over former Titan FC featherweight champion Luis Gomez (7-3), Herbert Burns (8-2) stood next to UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (15-1), who doubles as a Titan commentator when the promotion puts on a Florida show.
“[I] came here tonight and showed that I belong in the best company of MMA. I want my contract!” Burns told Usman to a chorus of cheers from his local South Florida fans, teammates, and students.
UFC president Dana White, who was in attendance for the Titan FC 54 show as part of his viral series, ‘Lookin’ for a Fight’, agreed with Burns. Following Burns’ one-sided win, White tendered the Brazilian a summer showdown opportunity on the Contender Series.
Burns, 31, turned to his grappling roots to get the job done against Gomez. While he wanted to strike more than he did, Burns says an injury in training prompted him to engage his jiu jitsu early, and the result speaks for itself.
“I was training with the [Titan FC] featherweight title challenger, Caio Uruguai, and then we were doing some grappling drills,” Burns told The Body Lock. “I was going to his back, and he was trying to whizzer my shoulder, and accidentally he cut my forehead. So, I had to change the strategy to a little bit more conservative.
I was going to strike more, but with the fresh cut, I didn’t want to bleed… the ref could call the doctor, and the doctor may stop the fight.”
The cut was hardly touched, as Burns emerged from the bout having taken virtually no damage.
Impressing the bossman
In addition to being Burns’ first fight on U.S. soil, Dana White’s presence in the audience made his Titan FC 54 bout all the more special. However, to Burns, White being there didn’t have too much of an effect on his nerves going into the fight.
“To have the UFC big boss there, Dana White, watching live, I think it… it didn’t put some extra pressure, ’cause I always pressure myself,” said Burns. “With Dana there or not there, my goal is to go in there and put on a good performance; get a good win, and to manage to do that in front of him is even better.”
Burns certainly delivered, taking Gomez down early in the first round and quickly advancing to the Cuban’s back.
The two-time CBJJ Brazilian national no-gi champion then proceeded to control the remainder of the match on Gomez’s back, repeatedly attempting to finish the fight with his patented rear-naked choke.
Finally, Gomez succumbed to what seems like an inevitable conclusion: another Herbert Burns submission victory.
With the win, Burns earned a spot on the upcoming season of the Contender Series from Dana White himself.
While Burns is eager to compete on the Contender Series, it wasn’t exactly what he expected.
“I was expecting a directly (sic) contract, ’cause my career was really early, facing very tough opponents; world-class opposition right at the start of my career,” said Burns.
It’s true: after just one fight on the Brazilian regional circuit, Burns was signed to ONE Championship (then ONE FC).
Burns rattled off five straight wins under the ONE banner, including submission victories over current ONE Lightweight Grand Prix competitors Honorio Banario (14-8) and Timofey Nastyukhin (13-4), who made waves recently with his first-round finish of former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez (29-7).
“So, I thought I would get the UFC direct contract, but I’m happy for the Contender Series. I think it will give me more exposure ’cause Contender Series now is live on
I think the Contender Series will give me this opportunity, and with me putting on another great performance, I should get the contract and then go to the UFC, hopefully into the main card.”
A lifelong training partner
Herbert Burns’ brother, Gilbert Burns (15-3), is an MMA and BJJ star in his own right.
Both Herbert and Gilbert train at the high-profile, South Florida-based gym, Hardknocks 365 today, but they’ve been sparring with one another since their first days of training martial arts.
“It’s great because we push each other,” said Burns.
However, Burns says the two are very different people – and martial artists.
“We both focus on jiu jitsu, but we focus on different things in life. I think we complement each other. We help each other on this. Even though we’re training at the same gym, we don’t train a lot together because it’s just like a different mindset; we train in different ways.
He likes to go a little harder, then I like to, I like to pace a little more on the training. Just like we fight: he’s a little bit more aggressive than I am; it’s just different styles. We still help each other a lot. We talk to each other almost every day. I watch his training; he watches my training. When he’s gonna fight I watch his opponent’s tape; he watches my guy’s tape, then we speak and come up with a strategy.”
Those strategy sessions seemingly paid off, as both Herbert and Gilbert won by rear-naked choke finish on back-t0-back days, respectively. Burns submitted Gomez at Titan FC 54 on Friday, and Gilbert tapped late-notice replacement Mike Davis (7-2) at UFC Fort Lauderdale that Saturday.
What the future holds for Herbert Burns
Herbert Burns is one of the most notable names to be competing on this season of the Contender Series. A high-level Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt with a stellar record, a multi-fight winning (and submission) streak, a UFC-rostered brother, and a career in ONE under his belt, Burns has a high ceiling in mixed martial arts.
Burns thinks so too, and he believes his time at Hardknocks 365 is one of the best indicators of his potential.
“I train with a lot of guys in my division at Hardknocks,” said Burns. “I fight with even guys like [Bellator lightweight champion,] Michael Chandler (19-4), [UFC featherweight,] Michael Johnson (19-14), [UFC lightweight,] Nik Lentz (30-9-2), [top Bellator featherweight prospect,] Ádám Borics (12-0); we have [GLORY kickboxing champion,] Robin van Roosmalen, [UFC veteran] Sean Soriano (11-6), man… we have so many talents at the gym,” Burns said of Hardknocks.
Because of that crowded room of world-class talent, Burns says he knows he’s ready to join the fray.
“I can see where my level is at. I’m pretty sure I can get ranked pretty soon. If I do well and people acknowledge me, after the Contender Series, I think I can make a quick run for the rankings, and then from there, we go step by step for a better spot in the rankings, and then we see what happens after that.”
As of now, there is no known date or opponent set for Burns’ bout on the Contender Series, but Burns says he’s ready for anyone.
“I will be training hard, and I will be ready for whoever they put in my way.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.