After a blank weekend, the UFC will return to our screens on May 30th with UFC on ESPN: Woodley vs. Burns. The show is tentatively scheduled to take place at the UFC's Apex Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, but that's contingent on the Nevada State Athletic Commission, giving them the all-clear this week.
If that doesn't happen, the promotion reportedly have a fall-back plan to take the show into Arizona – so either way, it looks like it'll be going ahead. It's not as deep a card as the last few that we were given, but there are still a number of decent-sounding fights on tap here.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC on ESPN: Woodley vs. Burns.
#1 Welterweight: Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns
Before Covid-19 struck, former UFC Welterweight champ Tyron Woodley's return was meant to come in March. He was all set to main event the UFC's Fight Night in London against the UK's Leon Edwards – the owner of a lengthy win streak – with the winner probably being handed a title shot.
Of course, that went by-the-by, leaving 'The Chosen One' on the shelf for two more months. By the time he enters the Octagon next weekend, it'll be well over a year since we last saw him in action. That fight saw him dethroned by Kamaru Usman, and since then, he's had to rehab a number of injuries.
With this newly booked fight, the biggest loser is actually Edwards; 'Rocky' will probably have to wait until 'Fight Island' is up and running before he can compete again. And if Gilbert Burns manages to upset Woodley, then suddenly he might find himself in the queue behind the Brazilian in one of the UFC's most loaded divisions.
So can 'Durinho' upset the former champion? There are a number of things worth considering when it comes to picking a winner for this fight. Firstly, let's look at Burns.
The Florida-based Brazilian first debuted in the UFC back in 2014. As one of the world's most decorated grapplers, he came in with quite a reputation, and his first two fights went to plan. He comfortably outpointed Andreas Stahl, and then unsurprisingly outclassed fellow grappler Christos Giagos.
By 2015, though, question marks began to emerge. 'Durinho' submitted Alex Oliveira, but only after struggling tremendously with his striking. And in his follow-up fight, he was painfully outclassed on the feet by Rashid Magomedov. Since then, he's largely flown under the radar until his two most recent fights – a decision win over Gunnar Nelson and a TKO of Demian Maia.
There can be no question about Burns' grappling skill; his accomplishments in that sport speak for themselves and his wins over the likes of Mike Davis and Lukasz Sajewski in the UFC show that his talents have translated well into MMA. And while he's not the greatest wrestler, he does have a solid array of trips and takedowns that he uses to good effect largely from the clinch.
His striking meanwhile has always been powerful – witness his KO's of Dan Moret and Jason Saggo – but more recently, he's looked much more technical on the feet. His win over Nelson was made possible by a series of excellent leg kicks, and while his KO of Maia came from his usual clubbing power, Maia isn't exactly easy to stop – only Nate Marquardt had managed it previously.
Essentially then, Burns is a dangerous man in all areas. So how does he match up with Woodley? Well, there's very little chance of him being a better wrestler. 'The Chosen One' was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American at the University of Missouri, and really, only Usman – a freakish athlete – has been able to dominate him in that area.
Burns may have an advantage in pure grappling, but it's not like Woodley is a slouch there either; he's a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt in his own right and has never been submitted in his 11-year career. And everyone knows about his own striking power. Woodley hits remarkably hard even if he hasn't got all that many KO's to his name.
However, the former champion does have an Achilles heel. Throughout his career, he's shown a susceptibility to a lot of forward pressure. A dangerous counterpuncher, it's not wise to simply charge towards Woodley, but a smart fighter can use their footwork to force him into a pattern of circling along the fence, and from there it's a case of sniping at him from the outside while avoiding his big power shots – if they ever come.
Rory MacDonald used that gameplan to comfortably outpoint him in 2014, and Stephen Thompson came extremely close to doing the same on two occasions. Had Woodley not landed a bomb on him in both of those fights, 'Wonderboy' would likely have taken his title.
Usman took that gameplan to another level, of course, forcing Woodley back but also physically dominating him in the clinch and with takedowns too, but again, 'The Nigerian Nightmare' is a one-of-a-kind physical freak. The likelihood of Burns repeating his success is very unlikely.
The question for me then is whether Burns has enough striking technique these days to follow that gameplan. If he isn't capable of backing Woodley up with smart footwork, then it's likely he'll find himself taken down, and while he might be a better grappler, it's unlikely he'll submit Woodley from the bottom.
However, if he tries to force the pressure by just marching forward and looking to land a bomb of his own, there's every chance that Woodley could turn his lights out with one of those monstrous right hands he possesses.
This is undoubtedly a huge opportunity for Burns to step up into title contention, but I'm just not sure this is the best match for him right now. If he can get to the clinch, there's a chance he could surprise Woodley with a trip – and obviously, anyone with his power has a puncher's chance.
Overall though, I'm not convinced that he can carry out the correct gameplan to beat Woodley. Unless 'The Chosen One' has suddenly fallen victim to Father Time – and at 38 years old with a year on the shelf behind him, it's possible – I feel like Woodley's more than capable of uncorking a huge right hand to put the Brazilian out, most likely on the counter.