Why did Belal Muhammad risk a short-notice UFC 288 bout?


Belal Muhammad sits at No. 4 in the UFC welterweight division. He has not got a single defeat in his last nine matches. So why did he agree to step in on short notice to fight No. 5 ranked Gilbert Burns at UFC 288 on Saturday?

How did Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns come together

In short, it’s because the UFC needed to save the event. The UFC 288 co-main event originally featured former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira facing Benil Darrish. Oliveira, however, withdrew due to injury. That bout has been rescheduled for June 10 at UFC 289 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

With Burns fresh off his domination of Jorge Masvidal at UFC 287 and Muhammad returning from his observance of Ramadan, which is part of his Islamic faith, officials saw an opportunity for a blockbuster bout. Muhammad vs. Burns is easily matched up, and could even eclipse the drawing power of Oliveira vs. Darrish.

Burns was already in line for a title shot following a planned bout between current UFC champion Leon Edwards and top contender Colby Covington. He was prepared to serve as back-up for that bout and wait for the winner. That is, until he learned that Edwards was not going to fight this summer as planned, but instead requested a delay until at least October before returning to the Octagon.

Not wanting to sit idle for long, Burns jumped at the chance to have a five-round bout with Muhammad. Fresh off a stellar camp for Masvidal and a successful bout, the fight with Muhammad will help keep him in shape and perhaps even elevate his status beyond Covington if things go on too long.

Belal Muhammad didn’t need to fight at UFC 288… until he did!

“I don’t need the fight. I’m on an eight-fight winning streak. I don’t need to take a fight on two weeks’ notice to fight a guy who’s No. 5 in the world, who just had one camp. He has everything to gain from this. I rank him above him,” Muhammad recently told CBS Sports reporter shakeel mahjouri,

Having been sidelined ahead of October of 2022, Muhammad, despite sitting one place higher in the rankings, saw his title shot swiped by Burns.

With a title shot for whoever wins this fight, Muhammad is just as motivated as his UFC 288 opponent. This is his opportunity to reclaim his position next in line for the belt.

β€œIs this going to be the one that’s going to get me the next gold? Is this the one that’s going to get me the title shot? That’s all they needed to tell me,” and that’s what they told him. If it’s going to happen, I’m 100% ready.”

Why did Gilbert Burns accept a short-notice bout when he was demanding a title shot?

“No one is going to give you anything.”

It may not seem fair for Muhammad to get leapfrogged by Burns, but mixed martial arts is very much a “what have you done for me lately” type of sport. It’s easy for a clumsy fighter to get lost in the shuffle. This is a fact that never dawned on Muhammad.

“No one is going to hand you anything. I knew this from the time I came to the UFC. Whatever I wanted, I had to grab and make my way to get it. Knowing that I was here for this fight. Plus, I’m still struggling to grab it and get it,” Muhammad continued.

“Having won this title that I know I’m going to get, it’s going to make all this extra stuff, all these extra hurdles that I had to overcome, it’s going to make it that much sweeter and that It is good that that gold should be wrapped around my waist.

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