And then there were two…
After a thrilling year of action inside the Octagon, we’re down to the final two events of the UFC’s 2023 campaign, with the first of those taking place on Saturday at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Headlined by what should be an electric bantamweight matchup between ranked fighters Song Yadong and Chris Gutierrez, and supported by a host of compelling and competitive matchups across just about every division, this weekend’s fight card serves as a compact, fast-paced lead-in ahead of UFC 296 on December 16 at T-Mobile Arena.
The potential for fireworks is high and the likelihood that at least one of these contests produces a performance that turns up in the year-end finale of the Monthly Report is pretty strong.
Here’s a closer look at the pairings slated to hit the Octagon this weekend.
Main Event: Song Yadong vs Chris Gutiérrez
Location: UFC APEX
Where to Watch: ESPN+
Other Main Card Matches:
- Anthony Smith vs Khalil Rountree Jr.
- Nasrat Haqparast vs Jamie Mullarkey
- Tim Elliott vs Sumudaerji
- Junyong Park vs Andre Muniz
- Song Kenan vs Kevin Jousset
- HyunSung Park vs Shannon Ross
- Steve Garcia vs Melquizael Costa
- Luana Santos vs Stephanie Egger
- Tatsuro Taira vs Carlos Hernandez
- Rayanne Amanda vs Talita Alencar
Main Event: Song Yadong vs Chris Gutiérrez
Song Yadong and Chris Gutierrez clash in a meeting of Top 15 bantamweights to close out the second to last card of 2023.
Making his third straight main event appearance, Song looks to build on his fifth-round stoppage win over Ricky Simon back in April that earned him a Performance of the Night bonus. Saturday marks his 30th professional fight and 13th trip into the UFC Octagon, which is a lot for anyone, but even more impressive when you factor in that he only turned 26 last Saturday.
Gutierrez makes a relatively quick turnaround for his first main event, hustling back into action after registering a unanimous decision win over Alatangheili at the end of October. The Factory X Muay Thai representative is 8-2-1 through his first 11 appearances under the UFC banner, and aims to catapult himself into the Top 10 by closing out the year with a second straight win.
This is yet another example of how deep and competitive the 135-pound weight class is at the moment — and has been for some time, quite frankly — as Song and Gutierrez are a combined 17-4-2 in the UFC, yet neither is currently in the title conversation. A dynamic performance from either here may not necessarily change that, but it should propel them closer to that position as we head into what should be an eventful 2024.
Other Main Card Fights
Anthony Smith vs Khalil Rountree Jr.
Light heavyweights Anthony Smith and Khalil Rountree Jr. face off in a critical divisional showdown that occupies the co-main event slot this weekend at the UFC APEX.
A former title challenger and staple in the Top 10, Smith halted a two-fight slide last time out with a split decision victory over Ryan Spann in Singapore. The 35-year-old veteran has been in the cage with a who’s who in the division, and will surely look to lean on his edge in experience when he returns to action this weekend.
Rountree Jr. was originally scheduled to compete last weekend in Austin, but shifts to a home game in Las Vegas after his opponent, Azamat Murzakanov, was forced out of the fight. The 33-year-old TUF alum has collected four straight victories with three stoppages, and appears to have found the consistency that eluded him earlier in his UFC career.
Will Smith halt the rise of Rountree Jr. or will the emerging finisher keep rolling and pick up the biggest win of his career on Saturday night?
Nasrat Haqparast vs Jamie Mullarkey
Nasrat Haqparast and Jamie Mullarkey each picked up victories in Sydney at UFC 293. Now they face off in Las Vegas to see who takes another step forward in the lightweight division.
After international wins over John Makdessi and Landon Quinones 53 weeks apart, Haqparast makes a relatively quick turnaround by jumping into this matchup on Saturday. The 28-year-old has shown flashes of high-end upside in the past, but stumbled in key moments, and heads into this weekend’s contest looking to keep things moving in the right direction following a solid showing back in September.
Mullarkey got back on the right side of the ledger in the fall, turning in a quality effort against durable Canadian veteran John Makdessi in an ultra-competitive battle. The victory helped ease the sting from his earlier setback against Muhammad Naimov, and sends the Central Coast man into this one having won three of his last four inside the Octagon.
This matchup has Fight of the Night written all over it, as both Haqparast and Mullarkey are at their best on the feet and engaging, with the counter-attack approach of the former meshing well with the pressure approach of the latter.
Tim Elliott vs Sumudaerji
The flyweight stalwart Elliott steps up to replace Allan Nascimento, aiming to get things moving in the right direction again following a third-round submission loss to Muhammad Mokaev at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi. A Top 15 fixture since his title fight with Demetrious Johnson eight years ago, the awkward veteran is the perfect litmus test for competitors like Sumudaerji.
Saturday marks Sumudaerji’s first appearance since his epic back-and-forth with Matt Schnell on Long Island in the summer of 2022. While he landed on the wrong side of the results that evening, snapping a three-fight winning streak, his stock still rose and it surely served as a massive learning experience for the talented Chinese athlete.
The short notice nature of this one adds another interesting wrinkle to this unique pairing, where Elliott will be giving up considerable height and reach, but holds a significant edge in experience. Expect a cat-and-mouse affair that holds your attention like every other fight each of these two deliver independently each time out.
Junyong Park vs Andre Muniz
Middleweights meet on the doorstep of the Top 15 as South Korea’s Junyong Park shares the Octagon with Brazil’s Andre Muniz on Saturday evening.
Entering on a four-fight winning streak and sporting a 7-1 mark over his last eight fights, Park is clearly on the ascent in the 185-pound weight class. After earning his first four UFC victories on the scorecards, the 32-year-old has registered three straight submission finishes heading into what is his most high profile opportunity to date.
At one point, Muniz felt poised to make a run at the title, but he touches down in Las Vegas this weekend looking to halt a two-fight slide. The Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) alum carried a five-fight winning streak into this year, however consecutive stoppage losses to Brendan Allen and Paul Craig now have him searching for a return to his winning ways and a way to stem the tide on Saturday.
Song Kenan vs Kevin Jousset
The veteran Song snapped a two-fight slide with a come-from-behind rally in August against Rolando Bedoya, starting slow, but warming into the fight to earn a clean sweep of the scorecards. A member of the City Kickboxing crew, Jousset debuted at UFC 293 in Sydney, posting a late first-round finish over fellow newcomer Kiefer Crosbie to push his winning streak to four and his record to 9-2 overall.
Preliminary Card Fights
HyunSung Park vs Shannon Ross
Park scored first-round finishes to advance to the finals of the Road to UFC tournament in February, where he latched onto a rear-naked choke in the third round to secure the win and maintain his unblemished professional record. Ross enters the weekend hoping the third time is the charm, as his first two appearances inside the Octagon have resulted in quick stoppage losses unfortunately.
Steve Garcia vs Melquizael Costa
Steve Garcia and Melquizael Costa face off in a battle in the lightweight division on this weekend’s preliminary card.
Garcia has posted consecutive stoppage wins over Chase Hooper and Shayilan Nuerdanbieke after an uneven three-fight stint at lightweight to begin his UFC tenure. Costa was submitted by Thiago Moises in his short-notice promotional debut at 155 pounds but returned to the win column with a unanimous decision victory over Austin Lingo in his most recent appearance.
Luana Santos vs Stephanie Egger
Luana Santos makes her sophomore appearance under the UFC banner, stepping in with Swiss veteran Stephanie Egger.
The 23-year-old Brazilian debuted in August with a dynamic first-round stoppage win over Juliana Miller to push her winning streak to three. A judo stylist with three submission wins inside the Octagon, Egger will look to lean on her experience advantage as she steps in with the younger Santos on Saturday night.
Tatsuro Taira vs Carlos Hernandez
In a flyweight bout, unbeaten rising star Tatsuro Taira takes on DWCS graduate Carlos Hernandez.
Taira is 14-0 as a professional following a 9-0 run as an amateur, having registered three wins in as many starts since matriculating to the UFC. The 30-year-old Hernandez suffered a submission loss to Allan Nascimento in January but bounced back with a technical decision win over Denys Bondar last time out to bring his record to 9-2 overall ahead of this one.
Rayanne Amanda vs Talita Alencar
Strawweights open the show on Saturday as Brazilian newcomers Rayanne Amanda and Talita Alencar kick off the action at the UFC APEX.
Amanda touches down in the UFC after claiming the Invicta FC atomweight title last time out, pushing her winning streak to three and giving her seven wins in her last eight starts. A gutsy effort that ended in a draw on Dana White’s Contender Series earned Alencar an opportunity to compete on the big stage, with the multiple-time BJJ world champion looking to continue her unbeaten MMA run with a victory over her compatriot in their shared debuts this weekend.
UFC Fight Night: Song vs Gutierrez took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on December 9, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!