Even the most knowledgeable of MMA fans have to do a bit of a double take when they look at the record Song Yadong has at just 26 years old. He started his professional career as a 15-year-old in China and tallied 29 fights over the subsequent 10 years, including a 9-2-1 record (six finishes) through 12 UFC bouts.
All told, Song is an established presence in the bantamweight’s division unrelenting Top 15, and he is only just now entering his athletic prime. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Song’s future is how quickly he improves his skill set, which allows him to make the most of his considerable athletic gifts. His last fight, a fifth-round TKO over Ricky Simón, is a testament to those gains. After dropping his first main event opportunity against Cory Sandhagen, Song put everything together against the marauding Simón before imposing his will and earning a performance bonus-worthy finish.
“My last fight actually was kind of easy,” Song told UFC.com. “I have some parts I have to work on, some details to make me feel great. I have more five-round experience. That made me feel more confident for this one.”
For his third consecutive main event against Chris Gutierrez, Song returns to the UFC APEX for the fifth straight time. At this point, Song says, the APEX feels like “home.”
Familiar confines aid in stemming the nerves that come during fight week. Even if the supremely confident Song seems unbothered, he admitted to feeling jitters against Sandhagen. Questions of cardio and pacing bubble up for any first-time headliner, and Song believes that experience gives him an edge over his foe.
“I think Chris is in a similar situation to me,” he said. “I think he will get nervous in the first round. It will change his style in this fight, I think.”
Originally, Song believed he was going to fight former champion Petr Yan. Although fighting and beating a former champ of Yan’s quality would certainly boost Song’s title hopes, he doesn’t mind occupying the A-side of the fight and leading the dance.
Gutierrez is the furthest thing from a slouch, however. The 32-year-old Factory X representative has 11 UFC bouts under his belt as well as a handful of highlight-reel knockouts. Gutierrez and Song each boast nine knockout wins on their record, and Gutierrez also has a TKO via leg kicks on his resume.
Despite that, Song isn’t all too concerned with what “El Guapo” will bring to the fight.
“Chris, he's a nice guy. He doesn’t talk s**t, but his skill is nothing special,” Song said. “He just kicks. Not like me. I’m well-rounded.”
Song, a longtime member of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, has shown an improved wrestling ability, both offensively and defensively, working with Urijah Faber and company.
Whether that translates to a considerable advantage in the fight is up to Song, who has shown a propensity to stand and bang if given the choice. Song believes he has every skill in the book – again, harkening back to his abundance of confidence – and hopes a win over Gutierrez sets him up for a title chase in 2024.
Although Song’s age hypothetically gives him much more time to go after UFC gold than his peers, he is pleasantly impatient. He doesn’t see his age as a reason to wait. He wants the belt as soon as he can get his hands on it. When asked about his timetable, Song simply says, “right now.”
When you’ve put more than a decade’s worth of work into anything, that end goal can’t get here soon enough, and Song believes a definitive victory on December 9 primes him for a Top 5 shot early in 2024. He has clear goals and intentions, and he doesn’t seem interested in wasting any more time.
“(I want to) be the champion,” he said. “That’s it.”