UFC had somewhat of a low-key Fight Night this week, presenting a card inside their APEX studio during late hours up against two major boxing cards. However, one thing remains true: fights must be made. No matter how big or small a card is, results trigger future bookings.
We don’t have control over what fights UFC will make next, but we’re always willing to bring some ideas to the table after the latest show. This week, we’re discussing: What’s next for Song Yadong after his second main event win, where Anthony Smith can go after his third loss through his last five, who a few flyweight prospects should meet next, and much more!
Maybe it’s because Song is often on low-priority Fight Night cards, but it feels like he is building momentum at bantamweight in a way that is going under the radar of some. He added to that success this weekend, going the distance against Chris Gutierrez for a unanimous decision win. The victory was his second main event win of the year, having overcome Ricky Simon earlier this year as well.
Once you get high up in the bantamweight rankings, there are so many matchups that sound like magic. It’s a buffet of great fights up there. After his win this weekend, how would we feel about Song facing fifth-ranked striker Petr Yan, who will try to snap a three-fight skid in his next appearance?
Song called for that fight this weekend, and I’m entirely fine with that being the next bout for them. That’s the type of fight that I think would not only be an interesting fight in how it plays out but also one that could give Song lots of extra credit if he is able to prevail. Even if you don’t like that fight, there are so many other fun options at the top of the rankings at 135 pounds that you could explore.
It was not an ideal first UFC main event appearance for Chris Gutierrez this weekend. It was pretty much one-way traffic for Song, who used his striking to clear scorecards and win the fight via unanimous decision. There’s no doubt that this fight was a big challenge for Gutierrez, and it definitely played out that way.
Ok, now time to look ahead. Who should Gutierrez face next? Well, there is obviously no shortage of names at bantamweight that you can put someone up against. However, I want to zero in on a fight that I think could give him a good matchup. I want him to face the loser of Mario Bautista vs. Ricky Simon, which will take place next month. Simon is coming off a loss to Song but had a five-fight winning streak before then. Bautista has won his last five against decent-level bantamweights. Whoever loses this fight might be on the perfect level for Gutierrez in 2024.
Khalil Rountree Jr.
Khalil Rountree Jr. is on the rise. While Rountree Jr. had some inconsistency in earlier years of his UFC career, he is now on the longest winning streak of his career. With a third-round finish against short-notice opponent Anthony Smith, he has five consecutive wins since 2021.
Rountree Jr. is currently ranked 11th in the division and will likely go higher once the rankings are updated in a few days. Who should he face next then?
I think it would be interesting to see him face Nikita Krylov, who is up at sixth and not booked for a fight at the moment. Krylov has three wins since 2022, including a quick victory over Ryan Spann from this year. Rountree Jr. seems to be in a good position to face Krylov, who is ranked five spots above him at light heavyweight currently.
Anthony Smith came into this weekend taking a risk and didn’t get the result he wanted. Taking a fight on short notice, Smith was put against Khalil Rountree Jr. The striking skills of Rountree Jr. were on display throughout the bout, but culminated with a third-round stoppage.
The loss means that Smith, a ranked light heavyweight, has now lost three of his last five appearances. The goal for him in his next fight is to find someone who has similar inconsistency at a similar level. It’s not easy quite honestly. You want to give someone an opponent that is a challenge, but you also don’t want to tip the scale too favorably for one party or the other. I’d argue that Ion Cutelaba is of a similar skill level and could make for a decent fight. Cutelaba snapped a three-fight skid in April, beating Tanner Boser with strikes.
It didn’t take long for Nasrat Haqparast to pick up a win this weekend. The 28-year-old picked up his third consecutive victory with a finish over Jamie Mullarkey in the second round. Saturday marked the first time that he has been on a three-fight winning streak since 2019.
I believe that a fun next fight for Haqparast could be Drakkar Klose, who is also coming off a quick first-round finish from this month. Similar parallels can be drawn in their winning streaks and quality of opponent as of late. Klose has beaten Joe Solecki, Rafa Garcia and Brandon Jenkins. Haqparast previous defeated Landon Quinones and John Makdessi. Neither have put together wins against stellar opponents as of late. Their similar storylines makes me think they would make for a fun pairing.
The split decision win for Andre Muniz over Park Jun-yong was a controversial one this weekend. More than half of the media members that were doing scorecards for MMADecisions.com scored the fight in favor of Park. Yikes! But our job here isn’t to debate that, it’s to make fights. At the end of the day, Muniz won a close fight.
I was hoping to possibly test the winner of this fight against someone who is more of a striker and also on a roll at middleweight. I was thinking of maybe putting Muniz against Roman Koplyov? He’s on a four-fight winning streak against okay middleweight fighters, but they have all come via finish. And, he doesn’t have a fight booked currently. I’m all for this, personally.
Five fights into his UFC run, it’s clear that Tatsuro Taira is legit. He proved that once again this weekend, using strikes to stop Carlos Hernandez early in the second round of their flyweight bout.
While Taira has faced many unranked names before, it seems like he’s ready to get into the top 15 at 125 pounds. After his win on Saturday, he called out ninth-place Muhammad Mokaev. Before this event, I put in my notes that a win for Taira means he needs to face a ranked fighter next. I personally wasn’t going to match him against Mokaev, who has a win over a more experienced name in Tim Elliott from October. And it’s also worth noting that Mokaev is already booked for a fight in March against Alex Perez.
But you know what? I like his suggestion! Mokaev and Taira are both on five-fight UFC winning streaks. Both are undefeated flyweights. Something’s got to give with one of them. Why not pair them up and see what happens?
From one undefeated flyweight prospect to another. Park Hyun-sung isn’t as developed as Taira, but he’s an interesting talent to watch. He won his UFC debut on this weekend’s prelims, stopping Shannon Ross in the second round with strikes. This came after a “Road To UFC” tournament run that saw him finish all three of his opponents. And during his regional run in Korea from 2018 to 2021, he only went the distance in one of his five fights.
Park has an impressive resume but is very much just at the start of his UFC run. It wouldn’t be fair to throw him anything massive next. I grade the guy he beat this weekend, Ross, as not that great of a talent. This weekend was his fourth consecutive finish defeat since last year, with two of the other defeats lasting less than a minute each. Because of that, I want him to receive a better challenge next but not one that will overwhelm him.
I think Park should keep his eye on the flyweight fight between Malcolm Gordon and Jimmy Flick at UFC 297 on January 20. Both talents are riding losing streaks, but the winner is someone that Park should consider facing.
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