Song Yadong should be starring in Shanghai, but he’ll just have to settle for Vegas.
Saturday’s latest UFC APEX offering was supposed to take place in China, but for whatever reason (my guess is they worried about selling tickets with a Zhang Weili vs. Yan Xiaonan headliner failing to materialize), the MMA world once again turns its eyes to everyone’s favorite crowd-free venue for what is now UFC Vegas 83. That probably doesn’t matter much to Song, who hopes to move up the bantamweight rankings when he takes on Chris Gutierrez.
Just a few days removed from his 26th birthday, Song has already become a familiar face to UFC fans, with notable wins over Ricky Simon, Marlon Moraes, and upcoming bantamweight title challenger Marlon Vera (a contentious decision, that one, but a notch in Song’s win column nonetheless). We know that Song can compete with the best. What we don’t know is whether he can be one of the best.
Gutierrez has also been a stalwart in the UFC’s 135-pound division, but he faces long odds against the younger Song heading into Saturday’s main event. Perhaps the matchmakers have already relegated Gutierrez to the position of gatekeeper, a title that you can be sure he’ll do everything in his power to shed when he steps into the octagon with Song.
In other main card action, one-time light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith looks to halt Khalil Rountree’s four-fight win streak, lightweights Nasrat Haqparast and Jamie Mullarkey meet in a clear Fight of the Night candidate, Tim Elliott steps in on short-notice to face Sumudaerji in a bantamweight clash, and Jun Yong Park goes for his fifth-straight win when he takes on submission specialist Andre Muniz.
What: UFC Vegas 83
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Table of Contents
Song Yadong (13) vs. Chris Gutierrez
Is it time for me to stop picking against Song Yadong? Yeah, probably!
This is a great matchup, one that, while designed to potentially showcase Song, should also be a competitive scrap given Gutierrez’s skills. If Song wants to land his power shots, he has to navigate Gutierrez’s tricky kicks and deal with his hard chin. Gutierrez won’t wilt if this turns into a firefight early.
I’d like to see Song implement some offensive wrestling into his game, though that’s not his MO, and more likely he sticks to what brought him to the dance. His speed and explosiveness have served him well in his career so far and he’ll have the edge over Gutierrez in those departments. Gutierrez’s kicks should take some of the sting out of Song’s offense, but maintaining distance for five rounds against the quick Song is all but impossible.
Song and his corner will feel this one out early before turning up the heat after Round 1 and finishing in the second or third.
Anthony Smith (11) vs. Khalil Rountree
Khalil Rountree, great striker, always improving, and currently in the best form of his fighting career. Despite all that, I’m still not sold on him as a mixed martial artist. At least not on the level that Anthony Smith has proven to be.
Smith has been through it all, no question, and the odometer is well over six figures by now, but he’s still one of the best light heavyweights on the planet. When he’s matched up with fringe contenders, he’s always fared well. His past five losses are to Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira, Aleksandar Rakic, Magomed Ankalaev, and Johnny Walker, all opposition that I rate much higher than Rountree.
You can never count out someone with Rountree’s punching power, obviously, and he’s going to be a threat for as long as this one lasts. Fortunately for Smith, he’s no stranger to fast finishes himself. I see “Lionheart” playing this one smart and taking Rountree down as soon as possible. Then it’s just a matter of whether he puts Rountree away with strikes or chokes him out.
Nasrat Haqparast vs. Jamie Mullarkey
This has all the makings of a fun and nasty lightweight brawl, one that hopefully ends with both men leaving the APEX with some bonus cash.
As far as their striking styles go, I view Jamie Mullarkey as the more straight-line puncher as opposed to Haqparast, who is more inclined to launch from a few unpredictable angles. Otherwise, there’s plenty of similarities between these two fan-friendly lightweights. They both come forward with plenty of volume, are willing to eat a punch to land one, and can push the pace deep into Round 3. Seriously, this is quality matchmaking, folks. Entertainment first, rankings and all that other nonsense second.
I’m feeling Mullarkey as the underdog here, though I can’t quite pinpoint why. Strictly a vibes pick. Mullarkey by decision.
Tim Elliott (T14, FLW) vs. Sumudaerji
A flyweight bout by any other name, Tim Elliott is doing Sumudaerji a solid here by taking this fight on less than a week’s notice. That’s about the only favor he’s doing him here though as I expect Elliott to give him one of his toughest fights yet.
I know that’s saying something given that we just saw Sumudaerji on the wrong end of an absolute dogfight with Matt Schnell. How you predict this fight to go depends a lot on whether you think Sumudaerji grew from that experience or if it might have exposed holes in his game. I’m inclined to lean towards the latter, even though he’s still just entering his prime.
On short notice, I fully expect Elliott to go for broke from the opening bell, something he typically does anyway even if he’s had a full camp. Elliott has respectfully been referred to as a stress test for a reason: if you crack when fighting him, you might not be cut out for this contender life.
Sumudaerji still has plenty of good fights ahead of him, I just question whether he has the experience to gut it out when his opponent is giving him no room to breathe. Elliott by submission.
Jun Yong Park vs. Andre Muniz
I’m of two minds on this one.
On one side, I’d like to see Jun Yong Park receive some overdue respect for being one of the middleweight division’s toughest outs for the past few years. He’s a popular pick on MMA Fighting’s matchmaking show On to the Next One and at some point should be regarded as just more than a stepping stone for more hyped fighters. Park hasn’t faced the most difficult competition, but he’s made short work of what the UFC has sent his way and that’s all you can ask for.
On the other side, I remember it wasn’t long ago that Andre Muniz was viewed as a dark horse threat to challenge Israel Adesanya for the title (some strong “Demian Maia’s grappling could be Anderson Silva’s kryptonite”-vibes there) only to be relegated to also-ran status after two disappointing losses. I get it, if Muniz couldn’t get past Paul Craig and Brendan Allen then what hopes does he have to even reach a top 5 ranking? I’m just not ready to get all the way off of the bandwagon yet.
In all likelihood, Park’s wrestling will be too much for Muniz and the Brazilian will spend three rounds struggling to muster any offense off of his back. But I’ve always been an appreciator of fine jiu-jitsu (or joo-jeet-zoo if you’re cool), so I’m predicting that Muniz goes on the offensive in this one knowing that his job might be on the line.
Muniz initiates the grappling, gets this one to the ground, and snags a limb for the win.