Gilbert Burns has two secret weapons at Sanford MMA to assist him as he gears up for a highly anticipated UFC 273 clash with Khamzat Chimaev in Jacksonville, Fla., on April 9.
Since defeating Stephen Thompson in his most recent bout in July 2021, Burns has revamped his training routine completely to accommodate the switch in opponents from a decorated striker to a dangerous wrestler. Russian coach Said Saparov, who joined the Florida team in late 2021, has proven to be a great addition to Burn’s camp ahead of his clash with Chimaev.
“He brought a lot of goof stuff, a lot of details in wrestling,” Burns said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting’s Portuguese-language podcast Trocação Franca. “I had to hire two wrestlers, two very tough Russians who are helping me daily. They asked to keep their names a secret, and I had to [agree], because they are showing me a lot of stuff, changing a lot of stuff in my game.
“I always liked single-leg [takedowns], double-leg, body lock, but the Russians have different details, unique grips. You’d think they are super strong, but they aren’t. They are strong, but their technique is great. There’s a lot of technique with the hip, waist, control. They are ahead of the United States [in that aspect]. I’ve learned a lot in this camp. And you can’t just learn the defense, you have to attack as well so you feel it and develop your defensive skills.”
Burns believes there are many motives as to why his two Russian training partners want to keep their names out of the media, but in his eyes, the “main reason” is the fact that they are helping “Durinho” prepare for a Chechen fighter.
“I believe there’s more to it, they haven’t told me, but they’ve asked to remain in secrecy, and I understand them,” Burns said. “It’s kind of an annoying situation. I was in a similar situation when I helped Michael Chandler a lot to fight Charles [Oliveira]. I went there with Chandler, helped him in his entire camp, I was rooting for the guy. Of course I was happy for Charles, but I was in such an awful situation. They are avoiding this situation by coming anonymously.”
Chimaev improved to 10-0 as a MMA fighter after steamrolling four opponents inside the octagon with his offensive wrestling and pressure — and Burns, a decorated grappler who’s become a well-rounded MMA fighter over the years, knows what to expect come April 9.
“His ground game is good and he’s lengthy, he’s big,” Burns said. “That’s why I had to bring in big guys, because it changes a lot. Jiu-jitsu has a lot of leverages and it’s more complex when the guy is long. I had to bring these guys in, and I train with Vagner Rocha too, people that help me evolve my game, but [Chimaev] does have good ground game.
“I’ve watched a lot of stuff from him. He has good anaconda chokes and D’Arces, a good back take. There’s video of him doing some crazy armbars, but his thing is choke from the back. He takes the back really well. But to answer your question, yes, I think he has good level of jiu-jitsu. I think he has a high fight IQ.”
Burns and Chimaev publicly agreed to a fight over social media months before the match was officially announced by the UFC. Burns told MMA Fighting that he tried to secure a new deal with the company before agreeing to the fight, since few people were volunteering to meet Chimaev next, however it didn’t come to fruition.
“I had already agreed to this fight before Dana White said no one wanted this fight,” Burns said, “but first I was trying to get a better contract. I wanted to fight Colby [Covington], someone in the top 5, but [told the UFC], ‘Give me a new contract [and I’ll fight Chimaev].’ My manager and I tried to do it, but didn’t happen. When I realized it wouldn’t happen, I said, ‘Just give me this fight.’
“I have a good contract, I can’t complain, but it’s a long contract,” Burns continued. “It had the Kamaru [Usman] fight for the belt and five more fights. I wanted to change the contract. I wanted a better one, and a bit shorter. I have the Khamzat fight and two more, and I wanted a four-fight deal, with the Khamzat fight being the first one. I’m more used to four-fight contracts.”
In the end, “Durinho” believes that beating a welterweight with as much hype as Chimaev will do more for his status in the UFC than defeating someone ranked higher in the 170-pound class. Burns believes the push around Chimaev has been built around his charisma and talent, plus the fact that Conor McGregor “is not that active” and Khabib Nurmagomedov has retired, so the UFC “needs someone from that side of Russia.”
“Dana White and the UFC are promoting this kid a lot,” Burns said. “The things they say, ‘This kid is a killer and no one wants to fight him,’ that helps a lot. But [I’m] not taking anything away from the kid, I think he’s good as hell and very promising. I think he’s tough.”
Burns is 1-0 since coming up short in his attempt to dethrone Usman for the belt, and he believes that another shot at UFC gold could be next for the winner of the Chimaev matchup “depending on the performance of both fighters.”
“If he wins in a fight where he’s knocked down or almost submitted, but in the end he wins, he’ll have to fight one more. If I beat him but get knocked down before getting a submission, we’ll have to fight one more,” Burns said. “A lot can happen, so my first focus is here, training hard, and getting there to put on my best performance, so I’ll have all the card on the table to try for the belt again.”