Belal Muhammad simply couldn’t say no to UFC 288 fight vs. Gilbert Burns, aims to steal Colby Covington’s title shot
MORRISTOWN, N.J. – Belal Muhammad said he was chillin’ in Toronto when he received an important call from the UFC, a call that he ultimately hopes is life changing.
UFC 288 suddenly was in need of a co-main event last month after Charles Oliveira withdrew from his fight with Beneil Dariush, and the call Muhammad received was an offer for a short-notice fight with Gilbert Burns to fill the spot.
“You know me: I love to fight,” Muhammad said Wednesday during UFC 288 media day. “I was excited for the opportunity, it was a huge opportunity, and I just couldn’t say no. Got right back to work, called my coaches, called my team. We all said let’s do it. And I’m ready.”
Muhammad (22-3 MMA, 13-3 UFC) will take his eight-fight unbeaten streak into Saturday’s co-headliner against Burns (22-5 MMA, 15-5 UFC) at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., which streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN/ESPN+. It could be a risky fight for Muhammad given the timing.
Muhammad recently completed partaking in Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan ended April 20, a little more than two weeks away from UFC 288. At the time that Muhammad received the call, his body might’ve been week, but he knew he was the best version of himself mentally, which is why he accepted.
“During Ramadan, my mind is the strongest it’s ever been,” Muhammad said. “Spiritually, mentally, it just puts me on a whole different level. To know my mental game was a hundred percent, I didn’t care what my (physical) game was. I didn’t care what the weight cut was. I didn’t care what the rounds (of the fight) were. Because I knew mentally I could get through anything.
“I know that, for me, it’s all about God’s plan. And I felt like God put me in that position at that right time, to be in that right shape for this one moment. Because this moment right here is where careers are made, where legendary stories are told. … There’s nothing that nobody could deny me for after I win this fight Saturday night.”
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The circumstances for Burns are quite the opposite. Whereas Muhammad hasn’t competed since beating previously undefeated Sean Brady by TKO last October, Burns, who’s won back-to-back fights, is about to step in the octagon for the third time this year after beating Jorge Masvidal on April 8 at UFC 287.
That means Burns has been in fight shape for the past month, so he should be good physically. But Muhammad warns that he’s nothing like Burns’ last opponent.
“For him to accept a fight like me, it’s gonna be tough, because you’re going from fighting a guy like Masvidal – who’s not as hungry as I am,” Muhammad said. “He has all the money in the world. Now you’re going against a starving dog, a guy that wants it more than you do, a guy that’s willing to die in there. How you gonna deal with that?”
Furthermore, Muhammad is dead set on making a statement. UFC president Dana White has said Colby Covington will get the next shot at welterweight champion Leon Edwards, which could happen in October in Abu Dhabi.
Unless Muhammad has something to say about it this Saturday.
“I think if I put on a great performance this weekend and get a tremendous finish or something – they’re going to Abu Dhabi. You think they’re gonna have Leon fight Colby in Abu Dhabi?” Muhammad said. “No, they’re gonna have me fight in Abu Dhabi. It’ll be like a dream come true, and I think that’ll be how the story is supposed to be written. I’ve just got to do my work this weekend, and I don’t really care what nothing else is, because I know my next fight is gonna be for the belt.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 288.