The UFC hosts one more card at the Apex for 2023 this weekend and bantamweight contenders clash in the main event. Song Yadong comes into this fight having won four of his last five fights, including his most recent win over Ricky Simon. He will square off with another streaking hopeful in Chris Gutierrez who has only been defeated one time in his last 10 contests. With all eyes on this showdown, the victor could position himself nicely for the fast track to a title shot heading into the new year.
The light heavyweight division is showcased in the co-main event as former title challenger Anthony Smith squares off against Khalil Rountree Jr. Both men enter this fight on the heels of a victory, though Rountree has been the more consistent fighter lately, winning four consecutive bouts, whereas Smith’s win in his last contest snapped a two-fight skid. With newly crowned champion Alex Pereira wearing the belt, the division is wide open, and, if Rountree can keep his momentum rolling, his name might be in the mix for people to watch in 2024 as potential threats to the belt.
UFC Fight Night: Song vs. Gutierrez airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action and make their predictions this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Chris Gutierrez has just one loss in his last 10 bouts; can he score another win in his main-event clash with Song Yadong?
Kuhl: I’m very familiar with the Factory X team, and the one person who still has managed to quietly fly under the radar with incredible success is Chris Gutierrez. He was born and raised in Texas, and that is where he started his fighting career. He sort of skated around the Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas area, fighting in various regional promotions,including one Bellator win, before moving up to the World Series of Fighting and LFA. He entered the UFC five years ago with a record of 12-3-1, but lost his promotional debut to Raoni Barcelos.
Gutierrez has since amassed an 8-2-1 record in the UFC. However, even after having endorsements from Joe Rogan on his podcast, and being the guy who knocked out Frankie Edgar in the veteran’s title fight, he has yet to become a household name. In fact, the only reason he is headlining this weekend’s event is because he stepped in for an injured Petr Yan, but that does not mean he does not deserve it.
Gutierrez can take the fight wherever it goes, and has won plenty of decisions, but his bread-and-butter is his striking game. With nine knockouts, one submission, and 10 decision victories, he poses a problem for any opponent. But, Song Yadong is no pushover.
Song has been practicing Sanda since he was nine years old, so kickboxing is in his DNA. He was only 19 years old when he made his UFC debut six years ago, and, in his first six Octagon appearances, he went 5-0-1, earning four performance bonuses along the way. Like Gutierrez, he only has two losses and one draw in the UFC.
Song’s most recent loss was to Cory Sandhagen in Sep. 2022, but that was a doctor stoppage. His last fight in Apr. 2023 was a TKO of Ricky Simon, which adds to his four other UFC knockout victories, including over Julio Arce and Marlon Moraes. Song is still only 26 years old, so he may not even be in his prime yet, but he is a UFC veteran with an incredibly dangerous striking game. In addition, he trains at Team Alpha Male, so his wrestling and ground game are always improving as well.
This fight is going to be a fun one for the fans. It may not be the top-10 match-up that would’ve been No. 5 Yan vs. No. 7 Song, but Gutierrez sits at No. 15, is coming off a decision win over Alateng Heili only two months ago, and has momentum on his side. That being said, Song is arguably his toughest opponent yet, and I believe the Chinese fighter will prove to be too much of a handful.
I will never count Gutierrez out, and I do believe his best years are still ahead of him. On paper, Gutierrez has the slight upper hand in the striking game, but Song has recently been working hard on his ground game, and I believe he will score a submission in the latter rounds.
Petela: If there is one thing I am confident about heading into this main event it is that this one will be fun to watch. Both of these fighters have title aspirations in their future, and, at 32 years old, if Gutierrez wants to make a run, the time is now. This is sort of a make-or-break fight for Gutierrez, because, if he can’t get past Song at this stage in his career, he probably doesn’t have the time left to make enough improvements to compete against the top of the division.
Fortunately for him, I think he is going to put everything together perfectly and score the win via decision this weekend. Even in his loss to Pedro Munhoz, who is difficult to look good against, Gutierrez had his moments, and he showed off some versatility in his game and slick movements. That will be the key against Song. It is no secret that both men prefer to get the job done with their hands, and, if Song connects, he certainly has the power to end the fight with a single blow. However, I think that Gutierrez will be well prepared to deal with the punching power of Song, and the Factory X product will have better footwork, which will allow him to stay out of too much trouble. In my opinion this, one plays out with Song consistently trying and failing to corral Gutierrez, who then is able to counter well and get out of the way of the big firepower of Song. Very much a bull-and-matador type of fight, with the matador in Gutierrez getting the better of the action while he evades from being gored. Unanimous decision win for Gutierrez and a fight against a top-five ranked fighter for him next.
Anthony Smith snapped a two fight losing streak by defeating Ryan Spann in his last bout; can he put an end to the four-fight winning streak of Khalil Rountree Jr.?
Petela: I don’t think there is much doubt that a prime Anthony Smith is better than a prime Khalil Rountree Jr. However, we have not gotten a prime Smith in quite some time. That’s not a knock on him, as he has had an incredible career. But, he has been through the ringer. He has 55 professional fights. To put that in context, that is the same total as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev combined.
Smith just isn’t the same fighter that he was a few short years ago. Comparing his two fights with Spann, it is easy to see that, while his mind is still willing, his body just isn’t as able. He doesn’t have the ability to pull the trigger as quickly as he used to, and that is going to cost him against Rountree. While Rountree has flirted with retirement in recent years, he seems to be fighting as well as he ever has on his four-fight winning streak. Granted, he was gifted a decision win in his clash with Dustin Jacoby, but he did look good in that contest. The story of this fight will be volume. Rountree will keep Smith on the back foot with a high-volume striking attack, and a slightly slower Smith won’t be able to find the timing to fire back enough to swing the momentum. Rountree takes this one by a wide decision.
Kuhl: This is a tough one for me, as I have interviewed Anthony Smith several times over the last 11 years, but I have to agree with my colleague here. Khalil Rountree was originally supposed to face Azamat Murzakanov last weekend, but the Russian had to pull out with pneumonia a week out. So, Smith stepped in to face Rountree, but they moved the bout out a week. Rountree has been preparing for an undefeated knockout artist, and Smith wasn’t preparing to fight this weekend at all. Not to say he hasn’t been training full time, but peaking for a fight matters.
To touch on a point that Matt made, Rountree has looked the best he has ever looked, and this is directly tied to the epiphany he had after losing to Johnny Walker five years ago. After getting knocked out with a close-quarters elbow, he took his training to Thailand, and it completely changed his game. After moving to Thailand, he won one, lost two, but then found his groove, scoring four wins in a row. And, yes, the win over Dustin Jacoby was pretty bogus, but the other three were TKO wins, including two post-fight bonuses.
Now, in no way would I say that Smith is ever going to be walked through. But, he has a lot of miles on the chassis, hasn’t been training for this fight, and was partying in New York for UFC 295 only four weeks ago. Which looked like a ton of fun, by the way. Smith is doing the UFC a favor in this one, and he didn’t publicly have anything on the docket since his second win over Ryan Spann in August. Rountree was preparing for a huge fight.
Smith always has a chance of pulling off a win, but I see Rountree scoring a decision victory on Saturday night.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Kenan Song absolutely needs a win this weekend. He is 1-2 in his last three fights, and, while his last fight was a decision win over Peru’s Rolando Bedoya, his previous two fights were knockout losses to Max Griffin and Ian Garry. The only other big name he has fought in the UFC was Alex Morono, and that was also a loss. If he comes up short against France’s Kevin Jousset, who trains out of City Kickboxing, he could very well be on his way out.
Petela: Andre Muniz. He is on the verge of a three-fight losing streak, and he has been submitted in both of his back-to-back losses. This is a must-win for the Brazilian, and if he comes up short, he might just get released. That is a tough task against a streaking Jun Yong Park, who has won four fights in a row. Muniz is going to have to get this fight to the ground early, and work for a submission, or else he will find himself in deep trouble getting bombed on by the heavy-handed Park.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: I’m excited about the debut of Rayanne dos Santos. She claimed the Invicta FC atomweight title in her last fight and moves back up to strawweight as she makes her UFC debut. She takes on fellow Brazilian Talita Alencar whose only blemish on her record is a draw in her Contender Series fight against Stephanie Luciano. This one is going to be a fast-action, 15-minute affair that folks should tune in for early.
Kuhl: Kevin Jousset and Song Kenan should put on a great fight. France’s Jousset trains out of the famed City Kickboxing in New Zealand, and he is currently riding a four-fight winning streak. He won his UFC debut in September with a first-round submission of Kiefer Crosbie. Taking on Song is a big step-up in competition for his sophomore appearance. Song, on the other hand, has been in the UFC for six years, where he has gone 5-3. At only 1-2 in his last three fights, he needs to make a big statement. With one guy trying to stake a claim, and the other one needing to remain relevant, this fight could be a total war between two powerful finishers.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: The main event combatants could both walk away with some bonus money after this one. Even though I feel Song Yadong will be able to pull off a late submission win, Chris Gutierrez is coming in with a full head of steam, and he will be looking for the knockout. Both of these guys are world-class strikers, and this should be a really exciting war.
Petela: Nasrat Haqparast. His fight with Jamie Mullarkey is going to be a stand-up battle. Both men are highly technical, but can be lured into a brawl, which is what will happen in this showdown. Haqparast won’t leave unscathed, but he will get the better of the striking and score a big knockout victory over Mullarkey that earns him an extra $50,000.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Your friends who don’t understand combat sports. This is one of those under-the-radar fight cards that fans have low expectations for, but it will seriously over-deliver. There’s going to be a lot of finishes, both knockouts and submissions and it’s the perfect card to introduce new fans to the sport who only know Conor McGregor because of his time atop the headlines.
Kuhl: This is a relatively late card for a Fight Night event, not starting until 7:30 p.m. ET. So, I’m going with something caffeinated during the prelims. I know it’s typically more of a morning drink, but let’s go with a good Irish coffee. The event will be full of jolts and so will my cup. A quality dark brew with some whiskey and Irish cream will hit the spot.
Main Card (ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)
BW: Song Yadong vs. Chris Gutierrez
LHW: Anthony Smith vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.
LW: Nasrat Haqparast vs. Jamie Mullarkey
FlyW: Sumudaerji vs. Tim Elliott
MW: Andre Muniz vs. Jun Yong Park
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 7:30 p.m. ET)
WW: Kenan Song vs. Kevin Jousset
FlyW: Hyun Sung Park vs. Shannon Ross
FW: Steve Garcia vs. Melquizael Costa
Women’s BW: Stephanie Egger vs. Laura Santos
FlyW: Tatsuro Taira vs. Carlos Hernandez
Women’s StawW: Rayanne dos Santos vs. Talita Alencar
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