Although Burns initiated his UFC journey in 2014, a year ahead of Kamaru Usman, "The Nigerian Dream" would have a much faster rise in the promotion, capturing the 170 lb title in 2019, after nine straight wins.
The two met for the first time back in 2012, when training in the now-defunct mixed martial arts team "Blackzilians." After the gym's shutdown in 2017, Kamaru Usman and Burns moved to Sanford MMA - also in Florida.
Although Burns continued to train there, Kamaru Usman decided he needed to swap teams because he wanted more individual time training. He moved to Onx Sports in spring 2020.
Speaking to ESPN's Marc Raimondi ahead of the title fight against his former teammate, Burns said:
"I know Usman since 2012 when I moved to the Blackzilians. [We had] so many sparring sessions, so many grappling sessions, wrestling sessions, locker rooms. He cornered me once. I warmed him up before he walked out to his fight with Demian Maia. I was in the locker room, mimicking Demian Maia shielding and doing stuff. We kept grappling [until two minutes before the bout]. He was just dying to walk out to that fight," remembered Burns. "So, yeah, I know Kamaru very, very well."
While current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has defended his belt successfully twice so far, Burns, coming off six straight wins, might prove to be the most challenging contender yet.
Does Gilbert Burns consider Kamaru Usman a friend?
In the same interview with ESPN's Marc Raimondi, Gilbert Burns declared that he does not consider Kamaru Usman to be a "friend-friend."
The welterweight title challenger explained that he has a small group of a few select people that deserve the friendship title:
"We were never... it is hard when I say 'friend' because I believe I don't have a lot of friends. I have a couple of people that not even counting in my both hands I can call a [real] friend. I consider him a friend, but as a great teammate, you know. He was the guy that always gave me good work. I would see the guy twice a day. [He is] like a guy that you see in your [workplace] every single day, and work with [that] guy, [but] that doesn't mean he is your friend. [It is not someone] that if you got problems [you are] going to call the guy. No, but you have a good relationship with the guy, and he works very good in that area, that was the thing that I had with Kamaru. We worked very well [together]," said Burns.
"We were kind of captains of the team. A lot of times, the wrestling coach had to travel to corner someone, [then Kamaru] was running the wrestling class. I was doing the same with the Jiu-Jitsu class. And, yeah, we have a great relationship, and I still have a lot of respect for Kamaru," added Burns.