LAS VEGAS — Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns spent many hours in the cage battling each other, sparring over more than 200 rounds together.
On Saturday, they were in the cage together again, but this time the stakes were considerably higher. The long-time friends and sparring partners fought in the main event of UFC 258 for Usman’s welterweight title, and for a while, it looked as if Burns’ pre-fight confidence would lead him to an improbable championship.
But after a rocky first round in which Burns buzzed him several times, Usman turned things around in the second and finished it early in the third.
The end came at 34 seconds of the third, when referee Herb Dean stepped in to halt it as Usman was pounding Burns from the top.
A lead right by Usman dropped Burns in the center of the cage, and he was hurt badly. Usman, a vicious finisher, never let him recover. After being reluctant to get to the ground with the high-level black belt in the first two rounds, this time Usman never hesitated.
He left Burns bleeding from all of his facial orifices. While Usman refused to touch gloves before the fight and the two jawed at each other at the end of the third, when Burns was being attended to by the medical staff, Usman dropped to his knees and watched intently.
After the verdict was announced by Bruce Buffer, who was celebrating his 25th anniversary as the UFC’s ring announcer, the two fighters embraced.
Burns was clearly devastated and sat on the steps to the cage for several moments after exiting the Octagon. His coaches consoled him before he got up and walked slowly to his locker room.
It started on such a high note for Burns, who whipped a big overhand right to begin the fight and caught Usman. It wobbled the champ, whose gloves touched the canvas.
Burns landed several other rights in the first that appeared to bother Usman, who seemed slow and tight in the first round.
But once he got the authoritative jab going in the second, the fight swung Usman’s way.
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