While Khamzat Chimaev may be entering next Saturday's UFC 273 event with a ton of hype behind him, Gilbert Burns said he had zero hesitation in taking the fight. Quite the opposite, in fact, as "Durinho" said he was happy to have somebody willing to step in the cage with him after nearly nine months on the sidelines.
"Yeah, because no one wants to fight besides this guy," Burns told The Underground. "You know, a lot of guys say whatever they want, but backstage, you don't know when if the fight was offered, the guy said no, the guy don't want it. We don't know."
Truthfully, both Burns (20-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) and Chimaev (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) are incredibly dangerous matchups for anyone willing to sign on the dotted line, which is one reason there's so much excitement behind this fight despite being placed on a card that also features two championship matchups. Once Burns heard UFC president Dana White say that it "makes sense" for the winner of the contest to potentially fight for a title, he knew he had made the right call.
"The way I see is the risk is very big, you know, but the reward is very big, as well," Burns said. "A lot of people are going to be watching. Dana said – I know that opinion can change, but he said the winner of this fight might get the title shot. So yeah, for sure, it's worth it to fight this guy.
"Very tough. Young. Hungry. But if not him, I'll be freaking waiting for another guy to say yes, and let's say if I beat another guy that's not Khamzat, if the fight goes like so-so, he's not giving me the title shot, so for me, I go all in on this fight. If I win, I get another title shot. If I lose, I need to get a couple. That's a few steps back. Then you've got to get another fight, but I go all in. I don't care."
Burns' willingness to take on the toughest competition is a commendable attitude for a fighter, but "Durinho" said he's not trying to prove any point. Currently sitting at No. 2 in the UFC's official welterweight rankings, he knows he could say that No. 11 Chimaev is too far down the list to be considered a worthwhile opponent, but Burns doesn't see things that way.
For him, the guy at the top of the list is the only one that matters.
"People like to hold on to that position, and I don't think any position besides No. 1, it doesn't make no sense," Burns said. "The champion is the position that I want. After the champion, everybody's just a freaking number. Seven. Five. Whatever. It doesn't change for me. I want to become a champion."
Burns has already had one crack at the belt, testing pound-for-pound great and former training partner Kamaru Usman early in their UFC 258 headliner before ultimately suffering a third-round TKO loss. But the setback only fueled Burns' desire to be a champion even more.
The fight with Chimaev could potentially help him get a second shot at the title. It also helps Burns fulfill another career goal that he hopes will ultimately move him alongside some of the all-time greats in the sport, such as fellow Brazilians Wanderlei Silva and Rafael dos Anjos.
"I have only two goals in the UFC - two goals only," Burns said. "I want to become a champion. That's my No. 1. That's my priority, and No. 2, I want to fight the best guys out there. You know whenever I'm done with the sport, I want to be like Wanderlei Silva. Look at PRIDE. 'I fought everybody.'
"Like RDA. Whenever RDA is done, he's going to say, 'I was the champion and look at my resume. Look, everybody that I fought.' That's my goal: Whenever I'm done, say, 'Bro I fought the best guys. I always saying yes. I never said no. I fought this guy, that guy, lost that one, but beat this guy, beat that guy.' That's what my goals are, and it's kind of part of my goal saying yes to this fight."
Just how good Chimaev is remains to be seen, but we'll certainly know more after UFC 273. The Chechen-born contender has shown incredible wrestling in his four UFC appearances to date, not to mention heavy hands, and has picked up "Performance of the Night" awards in each of his octagon visits. Burns said he's taking the challenge very seriously but also believes the growing idea that Chimaev is some type of unbeatable machine has been taken a bit too far.
"I think he's very good," Burns said. "For sure, people are getting crazy excited. 'He's a murderer,' blah, blah, blah, whatever. I think they are getting excited, but for sure, he's very good. The way we say it in Portuguese, 'we don't lie, but we make it bigger.'
"He's not lying. The guy is very good, but we've made him a super monster. I think he's very, very good. High-level wrestling. Good striking. Heavy hands. We saw a couple knockouts. Good grappling, but I don't see, like 'Wow, that monster,' you know?"
Oddsmakers currently have Chimaev installed as a massive favorite in the matchup, with some lines implying as much as an 85 percent probability of victory. For Burns, the chance to stop the rapidly building hype could prove very valuable in his own career. The 35-year-old veteran knows what's at stake but believes he can't focus on anything other than the immediate task at hand.
"I think it's everything about a performance," Burns said. "Nowadays, Dana says one thing, but freaking if the fight doesn't go as everybody expected, he might change the plans, you know? So I do believe it's going to be a finish, but I might be wrong, you know? It might be a freaking split-decision sh-t, and then we might be able to do another fight, so I don't like to make a lot of plans because I got frustrated multiple times.
"We'll see. I'm completely focused on the performance, but I do believe a finish, whoever wins I think will be very close to a title shot, but it's very hard to control these things. You could go out there and get a finish, and Kamaru and Leon Edwards are supposed to be July, and for any reason that fight goes to August or September, I don't see either me or Khamzat are not going to be waiting that long to fight for a freaking title, so Colby (Covington) is right there. Might be an option.
"It's a lot of scenarios, so it's very hard to predict what's going to happen, so focus on my performance and I think a spectacular, great finish, it makes a big statement, then we go from there. We will see. Maybe title shot, maybe Colby fight, whatever, you know, but that's too much ahead. We went to focus until April 9."
UFC 273 streams live on ESPN+ pay-per-view from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.
Check out the full interview with Burns in the video above.