UFC Fight Island: Kamaru Usman shakes up training camp ahead of UFC 251
Welterweight champion relocates to Denver and remodels his corner as he prepares for bout with Gilbert Burns in Abu Dhabi
Set to take on a longtime teammate in the headline bout at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi next month, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has made significant changes to his camp.
The current belt-holder faces No 1-ranked challenger Gilbert Burns at the top of the card on July 12, when the inaugural Fight Island swings into action on Yas Island.
Usman, whose mixed martial arts record stands at 16-1, has moved his camp from his usual Florida base to Denver – the first time in his eight years as a professional he’s held camp outside the Sunshine State.
Unbeaten in his 11 UFC appearances, Usman has also remodelled his corner for the Burns clash, which ESPN reported late on Tuesday will consist of head coach Trevor Wittman, Jorge Santiago, his brother and possibly lightweight interim champion Justin Gaethje.
Speaking to ESPN, Usman said: "Florida was the base for a long time, but you grow from there. We always had a ton of guys, some of the best training partners out there and some great coaches.
"But I wanted a little more specific attention at this point in my career - someone to be able to say 'You're going to come in at this time and work on this particular skill.'
“It's very tough to do that when there are 40 to 50 guys in the room with you who also need to get attention."
Usman and Burns have been long-established sparring partners, with the welterweight titleholder even taking seat in the Brazilian’s corner for multiple fights. Burns boasts a 19-3 record, and is coming off last month’s hugely dominant victory against Tyron Woodley. It stretched his own winning streak to six.
Asked if the sudden change in base from Hard Knocks 365 gym represented a risk, Usman said: "I think eventually I would have changed things up anyway. We had a lot of welterweights at that gym.
“At some point, when you're training with these guys on a daily basis and you're the champion of the world, these guys know you in and out and, if they get the better of you one day, they're licking their chops thinking it's their time. A little separation from that is good. It keeps that element of surprise, because these guys feel like they know you.
"One thing I firmly believe is that it's my work. You can be with a great coach, but if you're not putting the effort in, that coach isn't going to help you win. That coach isn't going to get in and fight for you. I know I put the work in."
Also in conversation with ESPN, Burns spoke about the different dynamics involved in going up against someone he knows so well.
"Our main coach, Henri Hooft, he stepped out," Burns said. "He said 'I don't want to go either way. I don't want to pick a side. You guys train. I'll be here at the gym. If you want to train here, we can train. But I'm not going to the fight.'
"For me, it doesn't change too much. It's just a little weird to fight Kamaru. I really like the guy a lot. We've trained together since 2012 or 2013, so we've put a lot of time together."
A four-event series, Fight Island kicks off in the capital on July 12 with a stacked card at UFC 251 that features three world title fights. It is followed by events on July 15, 18 and 25.
Updated: June 24, 2020 03:45 PM