What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 233 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
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Tatsuro Taira shows more of his potential
23-year-old Tatsuro Taira continues to display flashes of brilliance as he builds his resume and experience level inside the octagon.
Taira (15-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) is arguably the most compelling prospect in the UFC flyweight division right now, and his undefeated record only adds to the intrigue. Over his first four octagon appearances, Taira relied heavily on his grappling. That was the case again in Round 1 of his fight with Carlos Hernandez, but then he showed another layer to his game in Round 2 when he smashed his opponent with a huge shot on the feet to set up the TKO.
There’s no doubt Taira is currently MMA’s top hope for a Japanese UFC champion, and the door seems wide open at 125 pounds to make a run. There’s some highly skilled fighters ranked above him, however, and we need to start seeing him fight some of those names before we make a full declaration on his ceiling.
Tim Elliott's realistic post-fight assessment
After Tim Elliott scored what was, quite frankly, one of the more impressive wins of his UFC career by submitting Su Mudaerji on just five days’ notice, he delivered one of the most honest post-fight interviews you’ll ever hear.
Anyone who has followed Elliott’s (20-14-1 MMA, 9-11 UFC) career knows he has always been an open book. Anyone who has really followed him in-depth knows that’s especially true. So the fact he said he’s no longer a realistic title contender and just wants to be a reliable entertainer for the promotion, is respectable.
Paul Felder tried to pump Elliot’s tires a bit by saying he could still be a title run, but Elliott stayed grounded in what he knows to be his reality. Could he have a special night and beat the best flyweight out there? Sure. But navigating through the tough fights at 125 pounds on the rise up is the biggest problem, as we saw against Muhammad Mokaev at UFC 294 in October.
Nevertheless, Elliott is a name you enjoy seeing pop up on a card no matter who it’s against or the circumstances. And as he said, he can do that for years to come, so long as he doesn’t start taking an aggressive degree of damage.
Khalil Rountree keeps on shining
Khalil Rountree continues to level up in the light heavyweight division in what was a largely one-sided performance against Anthony Smith that ended in a third-round TKO win.
This was a very important fight for Rountree (13-5 MMA, 9-5 UFC) in the overall scope of his career. He had never won more than four consecutive fights in the entirety of his MMA run, which is pretty amazing. Now that statistic is no more, because his fifth straight victory at 205 pounds was the most meaningful yet.
Rountree is filling out his skillset to the point that it can truly hang with the current crop of fighters in this division. His striking power is on par with anyone, and his technique on the feet is up there, too. His ground game is still very much in question, but he’s developed a takedown defense system that is effective for him. If he can keep polishing that part, it might be all he needs to make a legit title run.
Rountree called out Alex Pereira after the fight, and he’s not going to get that now, but it shows where his mindset and ambition are at. He’s a different guy than the inconsistent one we saw earlier in his career, and it’s going to be interesting what he can do against someone a tier up from Smith (37-19 MMA, 12-9 UFC), who took this fight on short notice and rightfully has some questions about his career after going 1-3 in his past four bouts.
Song Yadong dull win no reason to temper expectations
Despite a somewhat lackluster contest against Chris Gutierrez in the main event, there’s no reason to panic and sell your Song Yadong stock when it comes to him being a certified part of the bantamweight hierarchy for years to come.
Will Song (21-7-1 MMA, 10-2-1 UFC) become champion in the loaded and volatile 135-pound division? That can be rightfully debated. But if you were a believer before, there’s no reason to give him up on him based on this fight, especially because the lack of action and slow moments in his unanimous decision win were largely the responsibility of Gutierrez.
Gutierrez’s puzzling approach after the second round hurt the entertainment value and competitiveness of the fight, and that allowed Song to take over and solidify the result in his favor. The five rounds of experience are only going to benefit the 26-year-old as he continues to get reps in the octagon in movement toward another big fight.
Song lost his last attempt at a breakthrough moment in a September 2022 main event with Cory Sandhagen. It would be nice to see him get another shot at one of those big-ticket names.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 233.