Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Herbert Burns, younger brother of UFC standout and Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard, Gilbert Burns.
Herbert left ONE Championship last year for greener pastures in the United States with the goal of joining his older brother in the UFC. Now recovered from a knee injury suffered in November of last year, he has his eyes set on making a statement in Titan Fighting Championship and graduating to the pinnacle of the sport.
Herbert Burns (6-2) fights Luis Gomez (6-2) at Titan FC 51 in Almaty, Kazakhstan on December 21, 2018 live on UFC FightPass.
Interview with Herbert Burns on Titan FC deal, the UFC, ONE, QUINTET, and so much more
Herbert in many ways walked the same path as his older brother. They started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu together as kids, took the competition scene by storm, and transitioned to MMA in 2012.
Their paths diverged in late 2013. It was then that Herbert took advantage of an invitation to join the Evolve MMA fight team in Singapore. Meanwhile, Gilbert rode six consecutive victories on the Brazilian MMA circuit, leading to a UFC call-up in 2014. Despite taking different paths in MMA, the Burns brothers have stayed active in Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition, training together for events such as Fight 2 Win and the IBJJF No Gi Worlds.
Having been reunited in South Florida since May of 2017, Herbert is focused on getting a string of impressive wins in Titan Fighting Championship and joining his brother in the UFC.
In our interview, we talked about training in Florida, how his new contract with Titan FC came together, his recent knee injury, the UFC, ONE, Titan FC 51, weight-cutting, and even his thoughts about QUINTET 5-on-5 team grappling. Read on for all of that and much more!
Titan FC Contract, Recent Injury, & Situation with Jason Soares
*Phone interview took place while Herbert was on his way to Brazilian jiu-jitsu training*
Kyle Volkman, MMASucka.com: Oh, okay! Where are you driving right now?
Herbert Burns: I’m driving to meet my brother [Gilbert Burns]. We are going to go to Vagner Rocha’s to train some jiu-jitsu. I teach some jiu-jitsu at Combat Club. Then I am going to Vagner’s to train. Then, after, three of my students are competing in MMA here in West Palm Beach, Caged Undergound (See: Underground Caged Fighting Championship 2). So, I have to corner them…
KV: When is that? This weekend? Next weekend?
HB: …So, it will be a nonstop day.
HB: Today! Tonight! Three of my students are competing at Caged Underground. I’m gonna corner them.
KV: Oh, that’s fantastic! Okay! I’m Kyle Volkman, and I’m here with Herbert Burns. Herbert, I obviously want to talk to you about the deal you just signed with Titan Fighting Championship. How did that come together and how do you feel about the contract you have now?
HB: Well, you know, I was trying to – when my contract expired with ONE Championship my manager was looking at [other] promotions. I was set to fight Jason Soares – now the Titan FC featherweight champion – for another promotion. But I had an injury and then there was a time [to recover]. I put some time into grappling. And then when we looked into promotions in the U.S. Titan is a very good promotion, and they sent a lot of guys into the UFC with the UFC FightPass deal. And we had a good relationship with them. I said to Gilbert to hit Lex [TitanFC COO Lex McMahon] up. And we had a good meeting, and the deal was made from there. I am really excited and really happy to be back on the MMA scene.
Great having @ufc fighter and BJJ wizard @gilbert_burns and his brother @herbertburns stop by the office today to talk about some exciting opportunities on the horizon. #titanfc #ufc #ufcfightpass #mixedmartialarts #martialarts #mma #bjj #jiujitsu #wrestling #kickboxing #boxing pic.twitter.com/mnDpfoV74W
— Titan FC (@TitanFighting) August 24, 2018
KV: Is it an exclusive deal? Do you have leeway with competing in MMA – I imagine that’s exclusive with Titan, but I know your brother still competes in jiu-jitsu competitions. Do you have opportunities to do things like that?
HB: I can do the jiu-jitsu tournaments. It’s a 4-fight deal for Titan. And Titan also – they are doing combat jiu-jitsu.
KV: Yes, they are! Is that something you would be interested in?
HB: I am really interested in that! If I don’t have [a match in] combat jiu-jitsu, and I don’t have an MMA fight, then you will see me in the grappling scene like doing super fights or sometimes I go to some tournaments.
KV: I know you’ve competed for Fight 2 Win Pro before on FloGrappling. Is that something else you’d be interested in doing again?
HB: Yeah, yeah. I’ve done Fight 2 Win; some IBJJF tournaments; I won the American nationals; I won the  Dallas [IBJJF] Open, my weight and the absolute division; and then I got 3rd place in the Pan American. But yeah, I think, like pushing into the grappling… I like to compete. I like to stay active. I don’t like to stay on the sidelines. I like to stay relevant.
KV: So, you’re competing against Luis Gomez. He’s 6-2. He’s a young guy. Only 23 years old. But before I talk to you about that fight, you already mentioned how you had a fight scheduled against Jason Soares last December. I wanted to ask you about the injury you had. How did that recovery go and how are you feeling now?
HB: It was a knee injury. I was training with Logan Storley. He’s a Bellator fighter. He was getting ready for his fight while I was getting ready for my fight. It was really an accident. This freak accident that happens. It was a very hard recovery. Novagenix is a PRP clinic in Jupiter in Florida. They helped me a lot through the recovery. So, it took a long time to recover because I took a more conservative way to do it to avoid surgery. We are thankful for that. But it took a longer time than if we did surgery, but I think we [made] the right decision.
KV: So how are you feeling now? Is your knee feeling better? Are you good with movement?
HB: Yeah. Now I feel 100%. That’s why I did all of the grappling events and tournaments. To test myself. Everything is great and 100% now. Good to be back. Good for a good fight.
KV: Do you keep up with the MMA scene in your downtime? I know you had that time off to recover. The reason I bring that up is because you are in a really interesting situation now fighting Luis Gomez in TitanFC. Jason Soares, in that time, fought Luis Gomez, and he’s the champion now. Are you familiar with that situation?
HB: Yeah, I was live and saw the event live because one of my students competed that day. So, I like had my eyes on the fight and saw the fight live.
It was a really – Gomez, for me, was doing better in the first two rounds. But I think Jason Soares caught him and his wrestling overwhelmed him a little bit. When he took a cross, he kinda didn’t see where he got hit and then he was really stunned by that. Then he got a takedown and everything happened too fast.
But they were a good fight. I think they are both a good match-up for my style of fighting. I put forward pressure and [I have a little longer] reach than Jason. I think I would like to fight both of them. Now, I am fighting Luis so now I’m focusing on Luis.
KV: Now, you said you have a 4-fight contract for TitanFC, and they have been teasing an announcement about a big 2019, a big plan for events next year. Do you know if this is a title eliminator fight because Luis just fought him [last April]? They want to give Jason Soares – they actually posted about him for his birthday saying, “can’t wait to see you defend your title soon.” Do you know if a win here could get you that title shot?
HB: I didn’t speak to Lex about this, but I hope so. With the 4-fight deal, I think it makes sense that if I get a win over Luis Gomez – he’s the #1 contender, former champion – that Soares would be the most common-sense bout next.
KV: Especially because you guys have that history. Was there any back and forth between you guys last year or was it pretty good between you guys? Did you guys ever have a faceoff or anything like that?
HB: No, we didn’t have a face-off. I got hurt two weeks before the fight. So, we didn’t have to face off or anything. No press conference. We didn’t chat [online].
KV: So, no ill will between you guys? Nothing bad at all?
HB: No bad blood.
KV: Okay! You guys still have that history, so it would be particularly interesting to see that match-up come together the second time.
HB: Yes. It would be the [second time] it’d be scheduled. It will definitely happen this time.
The UFC, ONE Championship, & Cutting Weight in MMA
KV: Building off of that, you are 30 years old. You are 6-2. You are really focused on MMA right now. What are your goals in MMA? Your brother, Gilbert, is doing great things in the UFC. Is that where you’d like to go?
HB: That’s where I’d like to go. I think I had a great run in ONE Championship. I put a five-fight winning streak together. Then – it was a very particular situation. It was very weird how they treated me my last win. It was two years with no fights. Then, they made a new weight system. Then, I was kind of fighting – still a featherweight but now at 155.
It was hard for me to adapt to the weight because it was way bigger for me. So, it was adapting to the weigh cut system. Also, I’m not a huge featherweight. They do a weigh in and no dehydration. So, it was a pretty weird situation. And I didn’t do well in my last two fights.
KV: I know you fought two tough Russians. Nothing to be ashamed of.
HB: Yeah and a former M-1 champ, [Magomed Idrisov].
KV: So, you did talk about weight-cutting and that’s something I wanted to briefly talk about. [Regarding the recent Cynthia Calvillo incident], what are your thoughts on weight-cutting especially coming from ONE Championship? How much weight do you cut? I know you competed in jiu-jitsu for a long time. What are your thoughts on weight-cutting in MMA?
HB: I think a few fighters go too heavy. They want to drop so much [weight] to get an advantage. I don’t do that. I’m not a huge fan of that. My weight – in kilos – right now is, like, 73kg. So, that’s like 161lbs. It’s not an easy drop because of my body fat, but it isn’t super hard. I try to make it as easy as I can. You know, dehydrate as little as possible. If you miss your weight, it wasn’t that the weight cut was bad. Your diet was bad. You weren’t doing the things right. It’s the weeks before that that doesn’t allow you to make weight.
Fighters want to overcompensate the day before. It makes it hard sometimes, impossible. That’s what hurts the body. So, I have to adapt. I can’t choose what system it is. In ONE Championship… With that new system, they just implemented that recently. They didn’t give any options to the fighters. You just have to try to adapt. It is what it is now. In jiu-jitsu, I fight at lightweight. It’s 160/162lbs. That’s my competition weight. I drop no weight at all! *laughs*
HB: It’s my natural weight. I just go weigh in and fight!
KV: Well that was kind of the same situation in ONE Championship, right? You said you weighed in at 155lbs there…?
HB: Yes. The guys were way bigger than me. It’s like – I don’t see an advantage in that. I couldn’t drop to 145 to be a bantamweight.
KV: Well, what did you think that system was like because I know a lot of fans have this idea that ONE Championship solved weight cutting.
HB: They follow the wrestling ways of weight-cutting. There are ways to beat the system. You have to be hydrated. Like if you arrive Wednesday, it’ll be Thursday and Friday [you have to weigh in]. So, you have to be 155lbs Thursday and Friday and pass the hydration tests, so you can fight Saturday. If you don’t pass the hydration tests, or if you don’t make weight, then you gotta make weight and pass the hydration tests to fight again.
KV: Now, I know you said that you felt undersized at that weight, but how did you feel about the way they went about their weigh-ins? Did you feel like that was a better way for fighters? Or did you feel like it was too complicated? How did you feel about that?
HB: They want to avoid dehydration, but there are ways to do that and still pass the hydration tests. So many people are still dehydrated! That’s what they want to avoid!
KV: So, you don’t think it’s doing that well at that. It’s not avoiding it.
HB: No. It’s not avoiding it. Fighters are still dehydrating. I think the way everyone else [outside ONE Championship] does it is just better because you can prepare yourself for the hydration. No need to lie.
KV: How did they test for your hydration levels?
HB: They have a machine. You have to have a certain PH level in your pee.
KV: Okay, okay. So, it’s a pee test.
HB: Yes, so an easy way to beat it is to drink water right before the test. You’re going to be dehydrated, but your pee will be hydrated. It beats the system.
KV: Yeah, that sounds like how they do it with folkstyle wrestling in high school and NCAA.
HB: Yes, they copy that exact system. So, it’s too beatable.
KV: Yes, I am familiar with wrestlers being able to take advantage of that system. That’s interesting.
HB: With the normal system, everyone knows that you are dehydrated. It’s fine. You don’t have to hide or lie like many guys are doing.
Titan FC 51 Match-up, Fight Camp, & QUINTET
KV: So, you talked about Luis Gomez vs. Jason Soares earlier. How do you think you match up against Luis Gomez and how will the fight go down December 21?
HB: Luis Gomez has good judo throws, good uppercuts, good striking. His takedown defense is good. He’s overall a good fighter. He’s young and hungry. I’ve faced tougher opponents than him. I feel that my grappling game is on another level compared to his. Also, my MMA game because I’ve faced more opponents – like way tougher opponents in my point of view. Now going back to my real division, 145, I feel that I have the edge.
On the fight, I think he will put up a good fight. He will try to keep the fight on the feet. I don’t mind staying on the feet, but if there is an opportunity to get a takedown, I definitely will do that. I don’t see the fight [going to the judges]. I see myself finishing him. I’m not sure what round. I feel I will get the job done myself and not let the judges do the job.
KV: Now what do you consider your fighting style? You talked about getting the takedown, but your brother Gilbert Burns has a been a huge fan of the stand-up lately. He’s been striking more than he has been using his grappling. Are you more of a grappler?
HB: I grapple more than he. I can say that. He has powerful hands. *laughs* But it’s great for the family. Very powerful hands. I think I see the takedown more. I’m aggressive and technical. That’s how I see my fighting style. I keep it aggressive with technique. I don’t look for brawls. I just look to win the fight the easiest way that I can.
KV: Are you in fight camp right now? I know you said you were going to train with Vagner Rocha and cornering some guy’s tonight. When do you start fight camp? How does that work for you?
HB: I’m already in fight camp. I train every single morning at Hard Knocks, Henri Hooft. And the wrestling coach: Greg Jones, Kami Barzini. All the coaches there.
KV: Is Steve Mowry down there?
KV: I know he is an upstart guy with Bellator.
HB: Yes. There are a bunch of guys. Michael Johnson, Nick Lentz, Andre [Soukhamthath], Sean Soriano.
KV: And do you get to train with all of these guys?
HB: Yes. One of the GLORY champions. We have world class training partners and world-class coaches. Great facilities. I’m also training at Combat Club. Training at both gyms. I also coach jiu-jitsu there. Daytime/morning is Hard Knocks. Nighttime is Combat Club.
KV: Who are you going to have in your corner December 21st?
HB: Gilbert. Gilbert will corner me.
KV: One last question from me coming a bit as a fan. Are you familiar with QUINTET that’s been happening from Kazushi Sakuraba? The team grappling?
KV: Do you follow that? Is that ever something you would be interested in?
HB: Yeah, I would definitely be interested in that. In Brazil, we used to do that. There is a Brazilian national team. I won four times. It’s like team versus team in a jiu-jitsu tournament. I won four of those. So, I know what those events are about. You need to compete then counsel your teammates. It doesn’t matter. You all need to do your job. It’s very fun. Out of all the tournaments that I’ve [competed in], that is the one that I’ve enjoyed the most.
KV: Now QUINTET is a little bit different though I believe. Where, if you win, you actually stay in. So, you’d fight multiple times in a row. What do you think about that?
HB: Only if you get beat, they change you?
KV: Correct. So, the way the rule-set works is that if it’s a draw – it’s submission-only – but if it’s a draw, both competitors “lose” where they are done competing. But if you win, you fight the next guy.
HB: That’s even more interesting. So, you can get the job done by yourself *laughs*
KV: Right! It’s a very interesting format. They do call a lot of stall calls. There is a lot of action. I know you and Gilbert would be very exciting in that format.
HB: For sure. I would love to fight in one of those one day. Sure.
KV: Alright! I know you have training soon. I have really enjoyed this time speaking with you. Do you have any sponsors or shout-outs you want to make before we wrap this up?
HB: Shout-out to my main sponsor here now: Palm Beach Express Catering, they help me with my meals and my traveling expenses for jiu-jitsu tournaments. Also, Booster Fight Gear, my gear sponsor. Combat Club, Hard Knocks. And Burns Jiu-Jitsu! That’s it!
KV: Alright! Thank you so much, Herbert. I hope you have a great day. Good luck with training and good luck overall preparing for your fight at TitanFC 51.
HB: Alright. Thank you.