High expectations were placed upon the highly anticipated bout between Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad, two top 5 welterweights fighting for the title of challenger. Despite the anticipation, the match resulted in a rather unsatisfying five rounds with a one-sided outcome.
A Test of Strength
The first half of the opening round saw Burns and Muhammad enter the octagon with caution, leading to a lack of concrete action in the early minutes. A short wrestling sequence occurred after three minutes, but the majority of the round was spent on the feet.
Both fighters were aware that they had signed up for a five-round match, leading to a passive and reserved approach to conserve energy and strength.
Despite high expectations for an exciting match, the second round offered little action and unsuccessful attempts at distance. Belal Muhammad had announced his intention to steal the title shot from Colby Covington, but his performance in the first three rounds failed to live up to those aspirations.
Burns had one of the less impressive performances of his career and it was difficult to determine who had the upper hand. In the third round, Muhammad began to throw punches more frequently, with his attacks still primarily focused on the left high kick that repeatedly was blocked by Burns.
The Brazilian had the most success with low kicks, but Muhammad managed to inflict visible damage to Burns' face, causing him to bleed from the nose.
Picking up the Pace
In the fourth round, Muhammad finally picked up the pace, frequently throwing his front right into Burns' head.
The Brazilian was reticent about engaging in open exchanges, relying mostly on low kicks. Muhammad dominated the round, with Burns struggling to threaten him. Despite a nice right from Burns towards the end of the round, Muhammad easily absorbed the blow and continued his pressure until the end of the round.
The unanimous decision of the judges (50-45, 49-46, 49-46) was won by Belal Muhammad, setting him on the path towards a title shot. Burns was visibly struggling with an injury to his left hand, limiting his use of that limb throughout the match.
Muhammad's control of distance and diligent point collection resulted in a routine victory after five rounds. Despite criticism of Muhammad's fighting style, the fighter of Palestinian descent has found a formula for success and adheres to it flawlessly.
This victory marks Muhammad's ninth win in his last ten appearances and a potential shot at the title. As for Burns, his two-fight winning streak has come to an end, making another title shot increasingly unrealistic.