Gilbert Burns’ welterweight title opportunity will have to wait, as the Brazilian and his cornermen tested positive for coronavirus just a week before the biggest bout of his MMA career against training teammate and current champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 251.
The news broke earlier today and details have been surfacing ever since, speculating whether Usman would still defend his title against another challenger next weekend.
Burns was set to headline the first card at UFC’s Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates against Usman on July 11.
The 33-year-old, currently on a six-fight win streak, took to social media to confirm the “devastating news” surrounding his condition after not being seen on the company’s charter flight to UAE yesterday evening.
Usman was also not seen at the airport, nor on the flight, which has led to suggestions that he was briefed about Burns’ condition beforehand and opted not to travel.
Jorge Masvidal (35-13) and former title challenger Colby Covington (15-2) took to Twitter late Friday night to highlight their availability to step in on short notice.
As for the UFC, there’s no sign yet as to what the company will do with Usman.
As quoted by ESPN, Covington – who lost to Usman during an excellent battle last December – is ready for an immediate rematch.
“My offer stands – ball is in the UFC’s court. I’m here to save the day against Marty or Judas [Usman or Masvidal].
Feed me either one, I’m ready. Knew to be ready for this seven months ago.”
Meanwhile, Masvidal’s manager Abraham Kawa said the 35-year-old is “absolutely willing” to take this bout on a week’s notice.
Burns’ entourage are hopeful the fight will be rescheduled at a later date, presumably sometime this year.
Volkanovski-Holloway to become new main event
As I wrote last month, UFC 251 also features two more title fights on a stacked main card.
Alex Volkanovski defends his new featherweight strap in a rematch with Max Holloway, while Petr Yan faces Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight championship.
As a result of Usman-Burns being shelved, Volkanovski-Holloway is expected to serve as the new main event. It’s something the defending champion believes is ultimately justice.
The 31-year-old Australian said (per ESPN): “This was the real main event. A lot of people thought this was the main event, so it’s in its rightful place.”