Belal Muhammad isn’t a flashy or dynamic fighter, but he’s about as good as they come. 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 had it 49-46 twice and 50-45 for Muhammad. Yahoo Sports had it 50-45 for Muhammad.
Muhammad, who has nearly impregnable takedown defense, pummeled Burns with body kicks. Burns injured his left shoulder on a failed takedown attempt in the first round and then was not able to throw it much the rest of the fight. Muhammad attacked the right side of Burns’ body frequently and by the championship rounds, Burns wasn’t using the right much either.
It was a brilliant performance by Muhammad, who took the fight on just 16 days' notice. Burns wanted the fight in hopes of building momentum toward 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.
Burns called out Muhammad, who accepted the fight, despite being in the middle of Ramadan. Muhammad showed it was a wise decision by thoroughly dominating his Brazilian rival.
Muhammad noticed Burns wasn’t using the left and that was one less problem he had to worry about.
“I could see him shaking it out a bit,” Muhammad said in the Octagon afterward. “He has an excellent left hook.”
When it wasn’t usable, it took away one of his biggest weapons. It was always going to be a challenge for Burns to get Muhammad to the ground, where he could use his prodigious jiu-jitsu skills in order to try to get a submission.
After the first-round shoulder injury, where Burns landed on it hard after Muhammad shook off a takedown attempt, he pretty much lost use of his left arm for the rest of the fight.
Muhammad was switching stances frequently but was mostly kicking to the body out of the southpaw stance. He blasted Burns on the right arm, but also to the body and it took a lot of the steam out of Burns.
Burns seemed to be worn down by being so active and Muhammad tore him apart.
Muhammad wanted to look good enough that he’d earn a welterweight title shot next. He probably didn’t do that, but he clearly proved he’s one of the elite fighters in the world and that is only a positive.