Updated May 31, 2020 - 3:00 pm
Gilbert Burns is officially a contender in the UFC welterweight division.
The 33-year-old announced his presence with a win over former champion Tyron Woodley on Saturday night at the Apex facility in Las Vegas.
All that was missing was the finish, as he won every round on his way to a unanimous decision victory in the main event of UFC on ESPN 9, the first combat sports event in Nevada since a state-ordered shutdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Burns dropped and cut Woodley with a flurry in the opening minute and spent nearly the entire round in top position. He dropped him again in the fourth, but couldn’t seal the deal.
“I didn’t get the finish at the beginning, but it might not have been a bad thing because I wanted to show everyone I could fight five rounds with the former champion,” Burns said.
He proved that and more.
Burns was able to win the striking exchanges and even landed a slick takedown on the former two-time All-American wrestler.
“I feel great,” Burns said. “I just executed everything I trained to do. I studied so much for this fight.”
It was the sixth straight victory for Burns and the second consecutive loss for Woodley, who was in action for the first time since losing his belt to Kamaru Usman in March 2019.
“I think he worked hard and got in great shape and took it serious,” UFC president Dana White said of Woodley. “He got dominated tonight. He’ll drop in the rankings and we’ll see what he wants to do. He’s 38 years old and it’s been (over a year) since he fought. That’s tough to do even if you’re a physical freak like him.”
Women’s strawweight prospect Mackenzie Dern was impressive in bouncing back from her first career loss.
The jiujitsu ace wrapped up the leg of Hannah Cifers with her back on the mat and rolled into a kneebar to end the fight midway through the first round.
“I think it’s a start,” Dern said. “A good first step toward making history and showing my potential. That’s what I really wanted,”
It was the first leglock submission in a UFC women’s bout.
Dern suffered her first career loss in October, just four months after giving birth to her first daughter. She found a few brief moments of success early Saturday night, then capitalized when Cifers elected to stay in close range with Dern on the mat instead of backing away.
“I came back from the pregnancy and fought good with Amanda (Ribas), but she was better than me that day and I wasn’t able to really show how I was,” Dern said. “So, I think nothing better than to do a submission that no one has ever done to show that ‘Hey, I’m a jiujitsu girl and, yes, I’m here and ready to be in the UFC and, yes, I’m coming for the belt.’ ”
Also on the main card, Roosevelt Roberts won for the fourth time in five UFC fights with a second-round submission of Brok Weaver, who had missed weight for the lightweight bout.
Weaver stayed aggressive, but Roberts had an answer for everything before finally finishing the fight with a series of right hands on the ground to set up a rear-naked choke.
Billy Quarantillo edged Spike Carlyle in a back-and-forth 150-pound catchweight affair that featured both fighters trading position in wild scrambles throughout the three rounds.
Heavyweight Augusto Sakai took a split-decision over Blagoy Ivanov as neither fighter could really establish much momentum over the 15 minutes.
The preliminary card was highlighted by top women’s flyweight contender Katlyn Chookagian obliterating Antonina Shevchenko for 15 minutes to avenge a title loss to her sister Valentina Shevchenko in February.
Saturday’s event was just approved by the Nevada Athletic Commission on Wednesday and the UFC plans to host fights each Saturday though June 27 at the facility with no fans after running three cards in Florida earlier this month.
White said the process of putting on events in such unprecedented times works better on their home turf in a production facility adjacent to their headquarters.
“The building is beautiful on TV,” he said. “We’re not in some massive arena with no seats filled. It worked out great. This place was built and designed for fights.”