Return of the Prospect: Mads Burnell

Last Saturday, June 29th, 2019, Mads Burnell put on a swarming performance to earn himself the Cage Warriors featherweight title. It was a challenging fight for Burnell, but a fight that cemented him as a surging prospect that perhaps needed to grow outside of the UFC.

In this article, I’m going to discuss what makes Burnell such an interesting fighter and prospect. It is also important to highlight what improvements he needs to make in order to return to the UFC and begin his ascension.

By no means, however, do I believe that Burnell will be a UFC champion. Instead, I believe he can grow to be a great fighter that can trouble a lot of the current and upcoming featherweight fighters.

Attack of the Prospect

In his UFC debut, Burnell met Michel Prazeres, if that name rings a bell, it is welterweight Prazeres fighting a featherweight Burnell at lightweight. It was a tough task for Burnell and he came out with a smothering loss.

However, he showed many of the beginnings of his style and what would become a discussion topic for many striking enthusiasts. From the get-go, Burnell showed a high right hand and a loose left, coming from an orthodox stance.

Light jabs to measure the distance.

Within the next few seconds, we get to see what his striking style truly is.


If you guessed cross-guard, you’d be correct. Burnell employs a rare boxing guard called the cross-guard, where one puts his rear-hand across his face and his lead-hand below across the body.

The great Archie Moore, using the exact same guard perfectly.

Notice that Moore has to bend low and that he uses his gloves to protect the sides of his face. Unfortunately for MMA fighters, their gloves are smaller. Thus, Burnell has more of an emphasis on his slips and ducks to block punches on his elbows and forearms.

Moving with the punches in order to land his own.

What makes this guard successful, however, is the necessity of distance and upper body movement. Therefore, Burnell needs to fight coming forward in order to reduce the number of kicks and long distance punches that can land on him.

However, Burnell would struggle to keep Prazeres off of him, and simply did not have the strength to hold off the Brazilian, costing him a submission loss. But it was a promising start for the young prospect.

A New Hope

Burnell would fight Mike Santiago in a grueling wrestling contest next. However, the fight that put him on the map was his fight against Arnold Allen. The Allen fight showed every aspect of Burnell’s game and it was a sight to behold.

While I discussed Burnell’s strange guard, the reality is that Burnell is a grappler. His guard, however, suits him perfectly as he immediately closed the distance with light jabs and preemptive head movement.

Notice how Burnell sways side to side and drops his weight as well.

Continuing our discussion of Burnell’s guard, Burnell knows that in MMA knees, kicks, and punches are all perfectly legal. Therefore, he is far more light on his feet, in an effort to keep his opponent guessing.

Allen is noticeably able to target Burnell because Burnell has not closed in the distance yet.

In the Allen fight, he constantly played with Allen’s lead hand in order to confuse him and decrease the number of Allen jabs.

Constantly pawing Allen’s lead hand to bother him and back him up.

By slipping Allen’s punches and coming into the distance on his own, Burnell was able to start landing on the Englishman.

The swaying and slipping gave Allen a nightmare of a target.

That is the beauty of the cross-guard, it looks incredibly awkward and your forehead is protruded forwards. However, by swaying, slipping, and ducking punches, Burnell can return fire from unexpected angles.

Notice how close Burnell is to Allen when he lands these short punches.

Allen of course quickly became annoyed because he could never hit Burnell clean, nor keep him far enough away to kick. Therefore, when he looked throw hard to keep Burnell away he was met with a takedown.

Beautiful level change, under Allen’s hook.

This is what makes Burnell’s striking work into his grappling. When his opponents decide to plant their feet and strike to either the head, body or even throw kicks, Burnell is ready to level change and take them down.

Entry under a punch.
Entry after a light right hand.

With the threat of the takedown in Allen’s mind, Burnell was able to surprise him with striking whenever he feinted a level change.

Allen was just confused if it was a takedown or a strike coming at him.

Burnell was able to neuter Allen’s offense, however, he would exhaust himself trying to keep Allen down. In the third round, Burnell would be submitted by Allen after leaving his head lazily too long inside Allen’s grip.

With that loss, Burnell would be sent into exile to Cage Warriors and out of the UFC. However, his firing would be controversial as he showed tremendous promise, albeit he needed some time to continue improving.

Revenge of the Danish

This brings us back to last Saturday, when, after dominating two opponents and submitting them both, Burnell would challenge Dean Trueman for the featherweight title. This fight again would be against an Englishman, and it was revenge for Burnell.

Straight from the start, Burnell came out looking to do what he did against Allen. Bully his opponent with flurries of combinations, into takedowns.

Lovely hooking off the feinted jab.

However, Trueman was a game opponent and looked to exploit Burnell’s aggression with elbows and knees.

Upwards elbow as Burnell tried to close the distance, could have seriously hurt.
Trueman looked for knees whenever he could.

Burnell, however, looked far more aggressive and willing to swing knowing that Trueman would indeed swing back.

Notice how Burnell keeps his right hand up knowing that Trueman was going to finish his combination with a left hook.
Slipping underneath Trueman’s extended lead hand, opened up a combination for Burnell.

Trueman, however also showed two glaring weaknesses in Burnell’s game: low kicks and the clinch.

Nasty low kick.

Burnell’s style requires him to stay heavy on his lead leg in order to create upper body movement, thus all his weight is on his feet and ready for the kicking. This clearly upset Burnell, as he began to close the distance even harder as a result.

However, this also put Burnell into the clinch and he looked static and lost as Trueman was able to land knees and elbows from the clinch.

Not pummelling or pushing Trueman’s face away, not good.
Not returning knees or even fighting for 50/50, thus eats an elbow.

This troubled Burnell deeply, as coming in crashing in close is what allows Burnell to submit and maul his opponent on the floor. However, Burnell would use inside boxing into uppercuts to in an effort to hit Trueman clean before they entered the clinch.

Can’t grab his neck if you get nailed first.

Clearly, Burnell would struggle with knees as his striking forces him to duck a lot, but the improvement and willingness to strike inside knee range allowed Burnell to give Trueman more looks.

A lovely darting right hand to confuse Trueman further.

Eventually, Burnell was able to get Trueman down to the mat and quickly tapped him out with a Japanese Necktie, clearly showing that he was definitely superior in grappling. Burnell is now the featherweight champion of the division, although Trueman showed holes in Burnell’s striking, even hurting Burnell when he got lazy.

The left hook hurts Burnell, however, he pivots off and Trueman could not follow up.

It showed that Mads Burnell is a step above the competition as an all-around fighter and that while he can dominate, he sometimes forgets that he is in a fight and not sparring.

The Danish Menace

Whether Burnell will be picked up by the UFC again is beyond me, he showed that he a step above the competition in Cage Warriors, but he also struggles to keep himself in check. He was hurt by Trueman and dropped by Rajewski.

He also left his neck out to be choked by Allen and given that he is a jiu-jitsu savant, he should be more careful in dangerous places. Therefore, I would think that Burnell should return to the UFC if he puts on one more performance where he can show that he can stay focused and run through his opponent.

Like I said before, I don’t think Burnell will be a world champion, however, I think he has the potential to give top-15 fighters lots of trouble. His mixture of aggressive striking and takedowns is going to be a nightmare for strikers and his slick defense will be a nuisance for wrestlers.

However, watching him defeat Trueman was a nice callback to his fight against Allen, and this time he was on the right end of the submission. Still, this was a nice return of the prospect; Mads Burnell.

Julian Lung

Writing out of Toronto, Ontario. MMA connoisseur.

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