Kevin Iole Combat columnist Yahoo Sports
LAS VEGAS — Gilbert Burns turned in a magnificent performance in the biggest fight of his life, and the shutout he scored over former champion Tyron Woodley on Saturday at UFC Apex shouldn’t be sullied by questions of whether Woodley has hit the end of the line.
That is a question for another day, though after losing 10 consecutive rounds in his last two bouts, it’s obvious the 38-year-old Woodley has plenty of soul searching to do.
But Burns, a former lightweight whose career turned around when he moved to welterweight, was magnificent. He won by scores of 50-44 twice and 50-45 and put his name squarely into the title mix.
“I knew I could do that,” Burns said after beating Woodley in every facet of the game. “I was calling these guys out for a reason. That was a former champion right there.”
Woodley looked magnificent physically, but Burns was quicker, more explosive and better in every aspect of the game. He dropped Woodley early in the first round and opened a gaping wound over the ex-champ’s left eyebrow. He took Woodley down twice and was never threatened.
Even in the final minute of the final round, when all he had to do was make it to the end of the fight to guarantee himself a victory, he was moving forward and picking Woodley apart on the feet.
Burns is a decorated jiu-jitsu fighter, but the improvement in his striking has made him vastly more dangerous. Burns was able to pressure Woodley, who often retreated to the cage, where Burns would work him over.
Woodley never got on track and looked like a shell of his old self. He turned 38 in April and hadn’t fought since losing his title 15 months earlier across town to Kamaru Usman.
Burns put a similar beating on Woodley that Usman did, so it somehow seemed appropriate when Burns called out the champion after the bout. Burns has now scored consecutive impressive victories over Gunnar Nelson, Demian Maia and Woodley.
He had no marks on his face and said he would be ready to fight for the title in July if the UFC wanted that.
“I’m going to do some push-ups when I see you later,” Burns said to UFC television analyst Daniel Cormier during his post-fight interview.
It certainly had the feel of a changing of the guard moment when Woodley left the cage. He is one of the greatest welterweights in UFC history and had a dominant run as champion.
But he looked lethargic in losing to Usman and didn’t look much better on Saturday after getting beaten in all phases by Burns.
He knows better than anyone whether there is something that explains these losses that he can fix, or whether this is, at 38, the end of the road for him.
There is little doubt about Burns’ future. With No. 1 Woodley having lost, the next three fighters are Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal and Leon Edwards. Usman, or any of the three of them would make a great next opponent for Burns.
However it goes, he’s going to be in a big fight next. And as talented as those fighters are, Burns proved on Saturday he’ll be a handful for any of them.