When UFC 288’s original co-main event fell through, two daring welterweights saved the day. Top contenders Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns squared off in a five round title eliminator. Both fighters overcame significant obstacles to make the fight so quickly. While Burns had just come off a win against Masvidal at UFC 287, Belal likewise had mere weeks to prepare. With Covington and Edwards set to fight later in the year, this fight likely solidified who the winner of that fight will defend against.
Although no one could deny Belal’s impressive winning streak, most fans and experts picked Burns to win. Belal has traditionally used his wrestling offense to secure his wins, and has lost key fights by stoppage. On paper, Burns posed a difficult stylistic matchup due to his dangerous grappling combined with his speed and power. The reasoning was that if Belal could not score takedowns, that Gilbert would eventually catch him on the feet.
The fight did not go as anyone expected. Early on in the fight, Burns attempted a takedown and landed on his left shoulder. After the round, he seemed unable to use his left arm, which left him with few options against Belal. For his part, Belal looked better than ever before. Although the fight stayed on the feet for five rounds, Belal outworked Burns. He used his stance switches and kicks very effectively, and generally evaded Burn’s best strikes. Belal went on to earn a dominant victory against one of the division’s most dangerous contenders.
Burns V Muhammad UFC 288, image – MMA Fighting
Fans naturally attributed Burn’s loss to his quick turnaround after the Masvidal fight. In the span of a few months, Burns has had three fights and training camps. The takedown seemed to aggravate a preexisting injury. That said, Belal’s improvements are undeniable. He has already shown his impressive cardio and wrestling, but his striking game now looks diverse as well. While he is not the fastest in the division, his skills pose a tough challenge for anyone, including Leon Edwards. As Belal extends his winning streak, their rematch seems all but inevitable, assuming Leon gets past Covington. Fans have counted him out time after time, and Belal has continued to silence the doubters. If he continues this upward trajectory, he may go on to become truly undisputed.