UFC on ESPN+ 91 Co-Main Event Breakdown

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There’s a case of “good news, bad news” about the UFC schedule for the rest of the year. First off, the bad news: There are only two events left from the MMA organization before a month’s hiatus for the holiday season.

Now for the good news: The remaining cards look like good shows on paper, including Saturday night’s event. Originally scheduled to have taken place in Shanghai, Saturday’s UFC Fight Night was relocated to Las Vegas and the UFC Apex facility with no concrete reasons given.

What’s now known as UFC Vegas 83 (also known as UFC on ESPN+ 91) begins on Heisman night at 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on ESPN+ with the undercard. Main card action immediately follows at 10 pm ET/ 7 pm PT from the Apex. All told, the show will feature 11 bouts.

Light Heavyweight Showcase the Focus of UFC on ESPN+ 91 Co-Main Event

Ranked fighters will take to the famous UFC Octagon at the top of the slate, starting with the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event of the evening, where the focus is on the light heavyweight division. No. 8 contender Anthony Smith (37-18 MMA, 12-8 UFC) makes his 56th career appearance versus No. 11 contender Khalil Rountree Jr. (13-5, 1 NC MMA, 8-5, 1 NC UFC) in the co-headliner.

With no championship on the line on Saturday, the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event is an advertised maximum of three rounds at five minutes per round. Immediately following in the main event of the evening is a bantamweight confrontation matching No. 7 contender Song Yadong (20-7-1 MMA, 9-2-1 UFC) with No. 14 contender Chris Gutierrez (20-4-2 MMA, 8-2-1 UFC). More on that fight later.

UFC on ESPN+ 91 Co-Main Event Fighter Comparison and Betting Odds

Heading into the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event on Saturday night, Anthony Smith stands as the taller man at 6-foot-4, compared to Khalil Rountree Jr.’s 6-foot-1 frame. Rountree owns a half-inch reach advantage (76 1/2 inches to 76 inches even) over Smith, with the contestants level in leg reach at 44 inches apiece.

As of today, the oddsmakers have Khalil Rountree installed as roughly a -200 favorite on the money line, while Anthony Smith counters as a +165 underdog. If you plan on betting on this or any other fight happening over the weekend, please wager responsibly.

“Lionheart” Looking to End 2023 on Victorious Note

Anthony Smith enters the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event having gone 3-2 over the course of his last five fights. Most recently, he fought to a split decision against Ryan Spann (21-9 MMA, 7-4 UFC) in UFC Singapore on Aug. 26, getting the victory on the scorecards. This was a rematch of a fight between the two that took place during UFC Vegas 37 in September of 2021, a fight won by Smith (first-round submission: rear-naked choke.)

After the fight, “Lionheart” talked to Michael Bisping and praised his adversary.

“I said it all week, Ryan Spann is physically superior to me,” Smith said. “He hits hard as (expletive deleted,) I mean, he hit me hard as (expletive deleted.) I had my faculties about me, but it kind of blinded me for half the round. I couldn’t really see and I just had to regroup. I had to make a decision that I’m not going anywhere, you know what I mean? I said it all week, maybe I smoked Ryan Spann the first time, but I didn’t think that was going to happen twice.”

Rountree to Return After Week’s Delay

In the other corner, Khalil Rountree Jr. comes into Saturday night’s co-main event having posted a mark of 4-1 in his last five fights. At present, he’s on a four-fight winning streak.

Last time out, he knocked out Chris Daukaus (12-7 MMA, 4-4 UFC) with a straight left on Aug. 12 in the first round of the fight. Rountree was already supposed to have appeared in the UFC this month.

Initially, he had been scheduled to fight Azamat Murzakanov (13-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) last Saturday night in Austin before the fight was scrubbed amid Murzakanov’s recent bout with pneumonia. Subsequently, he was rebooked to fight here in the co-main event slot.

He’s had an extra week to prepare for Anthony Smith. What kind of adjustments have been made to Rountree’s gameplan with the switch in opponent?

Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction

Stylistically, the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event looks to favor Anthony Smith, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, compared to Khalil Rountree Jr.’s status as a Muay-Thai fighter.

Watch for Smith to Go to the Ground

Given that Anthony Smith has a black belt in BJJ, it’s natural that he’ll try to take Khalil Rountree Jr. to the mat on Saturday. Ryan Spann got taken down in August in Singapore.

Midway through the opening round, Smith found himself on the receiving end of a flurry of punches from Spann, leading to Smith reversing a knockdown effort into a takedown.

At that point, Smith pinned Spann to the bottom of the mat to stifle any sort of defensive effort by his opponent. Although his grappling didn’t result in a rear-naked choke like in their first head-to-head showdown, the ride time gave Smith the round and went a long way in giving him the fight at night’s end.

If Rountree tries to pummel Smith, look for him to try and land a takedown this weekend. This could give the latter an advantage in the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event.

Rountree’s Kicking Game Could Tell the Story

In the other corner, Khalil Rountree has a kicking game that’s a force to be reckoned with. Karl Roberson found this out the hard way last year.

Right after the command to fight in round two, Rountree peppered Roberson with a two-punch combination to sit him down. Amazingly, Roberson stood back up, albeit for a brief moment, thanks to a further onslaught of strikes.

It was only a matter of time before Rountree ended the fight with vicious hooks and kicks. If Rountree is quick to the draw in the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event, this fight is his.

Final Thoughts

Don’t sleep on the UFC on ESPN+ 91 co-main event this Saturday night. This is going to be an entertaining affair.

Prediction: Anthony Smith by Unanimous Decision.

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about combat sports since May of 2018, coming to MMASucka after stints at Overtime Heroics and Armchair All-Americans. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew is a charter member of the Youngstown Press Club. Prior to beginning his professional career, Drew was a sportswriter for YSU's student-run newspaper, The Jambar, where he supplied Press Box Perspective columns every week.

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