Belal Muhammad is not a flashy or dynamic fighter, but he is as good as he gets. He proved that on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 288 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, when he dominated No. 5 Gilbert Burns to win a one-sided unanimous decision.
The judges gave it twice, 49–46 and 50–45 to Muhammad. Yahoo Sports had the score 50–45 for Muhammad.
Muhammad, who has a nearly impenetrable takedown defense, floored Burns with body kicks. Burns injured his left shoulder on a failed takedown attempt in the first round and was unable to throw it much for the rest of the fight. Muhammad repeatedly attacked Burns with his right to the body, and by the championship round, Burns was not using much of his right.
It was a brilliant performance from Muhammad, who took the fight on just 16 days' notice. Burns wanted the fight in hopes of building momentum towards a welterweight title shot. He was already 2-0 in 2023 with a win over Neil Magny in January and another on April 7 over Jorge Masvidal in Miami, Florida.
He summoned Muhammad, who accepted the battle despite it being in the middle of Ramadan. Muhammad showed that this was a wise decision by completely dominating his Brazilian opponent.
Muhammad saw that Burns was not using his left side and that it was one less problem he had to worry about.
Muhammad said afterwards in the Octagon, “I could see him rocking it a little bit.” He has a great left hook.”
When it was no longer usable, it took away one of his greatest weapons. It was always going to be a challenge for Burns to get Muhammad on the ground where he could use his superb jiu-jitsu skills to try to earn submissions.
After a first-round shoulder injury, where he landed hard on him after Muhammad pulled away from a takedown attempt, he almost lost the use of his left arm for the rest of the fight.
Muhammad was changing stances frequently but was mostly kicking to the body from a southpaw stance. He got burns on the right hand, but also on the body, and this made a lot of steam come out of him.
Burns was worn out by being so active, and Muhammad sidelined him.
Muhammad wanted to look good enough to earn the welterweight title in the next shot. He might not have done it, but he clearly proved that he is one of the elite fighters in the world and that can only be a positive thing.