If you had asked Herbert Burns a week before ONE FC: Moment of Truth what he would be doing next Friday night, the answer would probably have been something along the lines of “watching the fights on TV in Singapore.”
When Burns’ Evolve MMA teammate Leandro Issa signed with the UFC and a slot to face Koetsu Okazaki became vacant, the Brazilian volunteered to face the former Shooto champion, but they couldn’t agree on a catchweight.
It is a measure of the confidence of the BJJ black belt that despite having a solitary MMA win to his name, he was willing to step up and face one of the top bantamweights in Japan at a couple of week’s notice, but he couldn’t get below 140 pounds and Okazaki refused to move up 5 pounds to take the fight.
So with those negotiations done and dusted and Josh Alvarez pencilled in to face Okazaki, Burns didn’t have any big plans for that Friday night until Major Overall dropped out five days before the show and an opportunity to take on unbeaten Filipino featherweight Edward Kelly arose.
Burns barely had time to find his passport and pack a bag, let alone start cutting weight and get the medicals done, but he says he had no hesitation in accepting the fight.
“I wanted to fight, really badly. I was in shape and training hard every day. In Brazil it was hard to get a fight, so I try to be ready all the time.”
Burns made his MMA debut in February of last year, but has struggled to find fights since suffering a string of setbacks in his native Brazil.
“Honestly, my situation didn’t always allow me to follow the plans I wanted for myself and my career,” he said. “In the past two years, I have faced what seemed like a never-ending string of let downs and false promises. I didn’t have a manager in Brazil. I was consistently scouting for fights in various events, most of which turned me down because of their inability to find me a match-up, or because of the unreliability of MMA event promoters.”
Even when Burns did succeed in finding an opponent and getting a fight booked, things did not go according to plan.
“The last MMA fight that I was confirmed to be participating in was in March. Everything was confirmed, I had an opponent, I even weighed in, and next day I went to the fight and there was nothing set up! It was just the fighters and the public, but no cage. It turned out that the promoter went bust, but didn’t tell anyone,” he said.
If opponents in Brazil were reluctant to face Burns, it might well have been because of his BJJ credentials.
“I started when I was 10 years old. After four months of training, I was a yellow belt and won the Brazilian Nationals. I won the Pan Americana, Brazil National team, and Brazil Cup when I was a blue belt; Rio International Open, Brazil Team Championship, South American Championship, and silver medallist at worlds when I was a purple belt. I’ve won the South American twice as a brown belt, as well as the Brazil Nationals No-Gi two times; and when I received my black belt, I competed in and won the Pan Asian, Brazilian Nationals two times, and World Championships in No-Gi,” he told MMAWeekly.com.
His brother, Gilbert Burns, is a three-time BJJ world champion, who coached on Vitor Belfort’s team at TUF: Brazil. He extended his MMA record to 6-0 the night before ONE FC: Moment of Truth and his younger sibling says hearing this news hours before he stepped into the cage gave him a boost.
“That just gave me more motivation. Gilbert inspires me. He made me very proud and at the same time hungry to win my own fight,” he said.
Kelly was 5-0 going into his fight with Burns, but the Brazilian made light of his opponent’s superior MMA record by stopping him with a rear naked choke early in the opening round to take his own tally to 2-0.
Burns showed no respect for Kelly’s striking by attempting an early head kick, but he slipped backwards and ended up on the floor. The Filipino made the fatal error of attempting some ground and pound and ended up getting choked out for his troubles, but the BJJ black belt denies that falling down like that was a strategic decision.
“It wasn’t deliberate; it was an accident. But I kept my composure, stayed calm, and put all my focus into my game plan and things finished well.”
After enduring a frustrating couple of years in Brazil, he was offered a spot on the Evolve MMA Fight Team alongside compatriots Rafael dos Anjos, Leandro Issa, and Bruno Pucci, and Burns credits the move to Singapore with revitalizing his ailing fighting career.
“I joined in August this year and it didn’t take me long to figure out the quality that Evolve had to offer as a place to teach and train. It is one of the best martial arts gyms in the world and the quality of training is beyond comparison to any other gym in this region because it’s full of world champions.”
By registering a win over a previously undefeated fighter on his promotional debut, Burns immediately established himself as a force to be reckoned with in ONE FC’s highly competitive 145-pound division.
He might have endured frustration in recent years as MMA fights fell through, but the future looks much brighter for Burns now and he says he is hoping to stay active in 2014.
“I have everything I need to focus on my MMA career and skillset at Evolve and I have improved in every single area of the game since I got here. My mind is in the right place and I want to fight in the next ONE FC, this time having more time to prepare myself. I am eager to gain experience in the MMA scene.”
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter | Photo courtesy of Herbert Burns)