UFC 290 is a contender for the best event of 2023, but one of the most memorable incidents occurred outside the cage.
Gilbert Burns’ excitement when countryman Alexandre Pantoja won the flyweight title drew the attention of the MMA community. Burns practices at Kill Cliff FC, a natural opponent of Pantoja’s training home at American Top Team, thus the passionate reaction may have seemed unexpected to an outsider.
“One day a friend in common, Tiago, said ‘I must introduce you to Pantoja, you guys are soul brothers’ and that’s exactly what happened,” Burns said. “After we got to know each other, we became really close, our wives started to be close friends, our two sons, about the same age, started to be best friends. My emotion came not only from being close, but from knowing exactly all the hard times he and Gabriela passed through. Actually, we both live our lives for the same dream and seeing a close friend achieving his goal is an emotion difficult to describe.
What struck me was how many people were interested in that. It should be natural for someone to be pleased with the success of a friend, neighbor, or countryman such as myself, Charles [Oliveira], and Glover [Teixeira]. “We all have stories that are similar.”
Julianna Pena and Jorge Masvidal were also recognized by Burns for their charity that evening.
“She [Pena] was really nice to us. I asked her to put Pantoja’s wife and kid in the two seats reserved for Masvidal and his manager, and she accepted on one condition: They should leave during the main event because Yair was very close to her and she didn’t want to be bothered. Of course we accepted the deal,” Burns said. “The only problem is that when the referee was going to start the fight Masvidal arrived. I told him it was Pantoja’s family and he said, no problem. From this moment on, the place got really tight, but thanks to Masvidal’s and Juliana’s kindness, Pantoja´s son were able to see their dad being crowned UFC champion up close. I just have to thank them.”
Burns revealed some intriguing facts regarding his tears during Bruce Buffer’s announcement.
“The fight was a war, but me and Glover were pretty sure Pantoja won three or four rounds. But when Buffer started to announce and the first judge gave a 49-46 scorecard to Moreno, I just thought, ‘I can’t believe the kid will be robbed for all his hard work.’ That’s why I exploded and got so emotional after Bruce Buffer said, ‘And new.’”
Burns hasn’t fought since UFC 288, when he lost a unanimous decision to Belal Muhammad. He discussed the numerous injuries he sustained throughout the five-round fight.
I was suffering from a third degree acromioclavicular (shoulder) ailment. I strained my C4 and C5 vertebrae and tore my trapezius and deltoid muscles. “However, my doctor decided not to perform surgery,” he explained. “We’re experimenting with stem cells and physiotherapy.” I completed the first application three weeks ago and received excellent results. On Wednesday, I’ll perform the second stem cell application.”
Burns is planning to return to action in December.
“I would love to fight in November in Brazil, but that wouldn’t be possible. I had three fights in 2023. Some of the Top 5 didn’t even fight in 2023 yet. I hope that the division changes in the coming months, so that I can come back against a challenger that makes sense,” Burns said.
“I saw [Georges St. Pierre] saying that he would like to have a [grappling match] in December. That fight would be great. And I already made myself available.”