Having just rebounded from a decision setback to Rashid Magomedov, which snapped a three-fight octagon winning streak, Burns was beaming with confidence when he entered a UFC Fight Night 95 appointment with Brazilian countryman Michel Prazeres.
“I thought I was going to kill him,” Burns told MMAjunkie.
The tough Prazeres, however, had other plans. And, once more, Burns saw himself landing on the losing end of the judges’ scorecards. You’d think that, having already gone through the process of a setback, this time things would have been easier, right?
“This one was actually worse,” Burns said. “I was really down. I was very depressed. It was something that made me really stop and assess what I wanted and what I had to change. There was a lot of self-analysis to see what I needed to improve.
“Because I didn’t want to be that average fighter who wins one, then loses one, then wins one. Either I do this right, or I won’t do it. Either I do it right so I can rise, win fights and become a top-five fighter and a title contender, or I’ll stop. That was my feeling.”
But, for the ever-optimistic Burns, there seems to be very little that can’t be spun under a positive light. The loss, he says, served as a wake-up call. For one, it showed him not to underestimate his competition. But, more importantly, it forced him to make some much-needed reassessment.
“I changed a lot in my training,” Burns said. “I took it more seriously, trained harder. I did some serious self-analysis to see what was missing, because I didn’t want to be on that see-saw of results. I already thought I was very professional in the way I trained and conducted things. But, this time, I took it even more seriously. I got even more professional.
“I took notes in training, I set goals even during the training sessions, and I think that helped me evolve even more. The loss showed me that there was room for improvement.”
It’s not exactly uncommon for fighters to come to these types of conclusions after losses. But Burns (12-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) has results to show for them. One year after the setback, he returned against Jason Saggo (12-4 MMA, 3-3 UFC), at UFC Fight Night 116, not only with a win, but also with the first knockout of his UFC stint.
The long layoff wasn’t exactly welcome: Burns, in fact, went right back into training after UFC Fight Night 95 looking to get a quick turnaround. The booking he’d been anxiously awaiting finally came in December, but then an elbow injury forced him to cancel. And more waiting ensued.
Conversely, the Brazilian lightweight had more time to tweak things in a few fronts. On the technical side, “Durinho” invested heavily in his boxing and wrestling. He also changed things up geographically: instead of doing the entirety of his training in the U.S., he started laying out the foundation for it in his home country, in Brasilia, with UFC welterweight Vicente Luque.
But, for the lauded grappler, a particularly important addition was made to help with another aspect of his game.
“Something else I did was intense work with a sports psychologist,” Burns said.
The psychologist, who also works with Olympic-level athletes from Brazil’s national judo team, assessed Burns with tests and helped him organize and set goals for his training sessions and beyond. More than that, though, it helped him cope with expectations and pressure.
That definitely came in handy in his last octagon outing. As if the stakes weren’t high enough already, the bout carried the added weight of being the last one in Burns’ UFC contract. Taking it all into account, he ponders, the Saggo meeting was supposed to be the most daunting one of his career.
But, somehow, it wasn’t.
“This was my first fight in the UFC that I entered pressure-free,” Burns said. “I went into it very, very hungry to fight – which I didn’t feel going into the Prazeres fight.”
Now back in the winning column, Burns is hoping to get a new deal and a fight locked in quickly. While he has yet to sit down with promotion officials, the 155-pounder is hoping for a December return – UFC 218 on Dec. 2, for instance, would suit him just fine.
As for possible competition, Burns has a few ideas – judo-based Olivier Aubin-Mercier, who won his fight against Tony Martin on the same Pittsburgh card, and Scottish standout Stevie Ray, whom Burns has already responded to on Twitter, come to mind.
But “Durinho” sees so many options of opponents in the stacked 155-pound division that he doesn’t even want to start naming them all. Not to mention that, at this point, his plans are not that much about the “who” as they are about the “how” and “how many.”
“I want to get a bunch of wins in a row now,” Burns said. “I’m not going to go around picking big names, or cards. I just want to get three, four, five consecutive wins now.”
With that in mind, regardless of getting his desired December booking, Burns is already looking to start working on the basis for his camp shortly – that’s another thing, he says, that has changed. Instead of jumping right into his peers’ fight-specific preparation, he wants to work on the fundamentals first and build up from there.
“Another thing I’ll do is, I’ll watch the fight again and write down every little thing I did wrong,” Burns said. “I have notes from the entire camp.
“So I’m going to go over everything that I did wrong, everything that I can improve on. I think that will also help me a lot in my next fight.”
Isn’t this level of diligence sort of exhausting, though?
“I go psycho,” Burns responded with a laugh. “But that’s just how upset I get when I lose.”
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