Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns sparred '300 times before' in gym but will do it for real in 'bitter sweet' UFC 258 fight

KAMARU USMAN and Gilbert Burns will put an eight-year friendship and memories of training together to one side for their 'bitter sweet' UFC 258 headliner.

The pair shared the Sanford MMA gym in Florida together since 2012, up until they were scheduled to fight each other last July.

Welterweight champion Usman, 33, made the decision to join coach Trevor Wittman in Colorado.

But contender Burns, 34, has remained with Dutch trainer Henri Hooft, who has seen the welterweights spar each other hundreds of times.

Hooft insists it is strictly business on Saturday night and promises having watched them fight for free, the two will be value for money when they do it for real.

He told SunSport: "These two guys know each other so well I don't even have any secret moves to teach Gilbert.

"They've already fought each other probably 300 times before. Sparring in my gym is real sparring, we don't spar light or like game plan sparring.

"Of course, they will have flashbacks; they both know exactly what they do.

"They know each other and that's why it's going to be an exciting fight.

"They're not fighting because they don't like each other, they fight because it's business."


A post shared by Henri Hooft (@henrihooft)

Hooft has decided not to corner Burns, in the interest of staying fair to both his pupils.

And he opened up on the weird situation which will see one of his friends leave champion, with the other heartbroken.

Hooft said: "We have one guys whose won the belt, so I see that as building the house and another guy who wants to win the belt.

"So, it's bitter sweet, because you don't want a guy to lose his belt, he's worked hard for it and you've done it together.

"But, you also don't want to take away a dream of another guy who wants the belt and has trained with you.

"So, I decided to train Gilbert here in the gym with all the other guys and all his team-mates, Kamaru decided to go – but no one said he needed to."

Hooft is quick to reveal there are no hard feeling towards Usman, who is welcome back to his gym anytime, or fellow cornerman Wittman.

The champion and challenger were not only chief sparring partners, but close friends.

Usman even cornered Burns in the past but their relationship was forced to change in March.

Burns had beaten former champion Tyron Woodley, 38, to put himself in the line for the belt.

He was initially set to challenge Usman at UFC 251, but he tested positive for coronavirus, with Jorge Masvidal stepping in on a week's notice instead.

Masvidal was beaten on points as Burns was made to wait even longer to finally face his former gym-mate.

But the UFC announced in January that the title fight would be rescheduled with the two now days away from settling the score.

Unlike with Usman's wins over Colby Covington, 32, and Masvidal, 36, there has been nothing but mutual respect between himself and Burns.

Hooft admitted there is no need to create fake trash-talk or animosity, relying on the UFC to tell the story of their friendship-turned rivalry.

He explained: "Both of them are professional and it's the way it goes.

"They've been fighting each other before, so there's no emotions, as soon as the bell goes and they start fighting may the best man win.

"We don't make drama out of it, it's sport, you get paid for it.

"The fighters don't need to trash talk and sell the fight, that's why you're in a promotion, that's their work to sell the fight."

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