Can Mackenzie Dern continue on path toward a UFC title, or is it Marina Rodriguez’s time?


When Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Mackenzie Dern made her full transition into blended martial arts in 2016, the sheer potential of it was intoxicating.

Granted, so many issues have to go proper for any prospect to completely understand his or her potential, however within the case of Dern, her submission grappling is at such a excessive stage, it’s the type of trump card that may flip a prospect into a contender into a champion.

Five years into her skilled profession, issues are going proper for Dern. The 28-year-old will trip a four-fight win streak into her first UFC essential occasion on Saturday when she meets Marina Rodriguez at UFC Fight Night contained in the Apex in Las Vegas (2 p.m. ET on ESPN+). A win would solidify Dern as a top-five contender at strawweight, and doubtlessly even bolster her into the highest three.

Everything appears to be clicking for Dern, who has recorded first-round submissions in three of her previous 4 appearances. She has created a excellent partnership with head coach Jason Parillo, who has coached a number of former UFC champions, together with BJ Penn, Tito Ortiz, Michael Bisping, Rafael dos Anjos and Luke Rockhold.

She has proven a nice deal of maturity and self-discipline in recent times, after early struggles with issues like work ethic and weight administration. She has set her objectives excessive — simply this week, she spoke on the opportunity of an eventual flyweight title battle towards Valentina Shevchenko — however she’s additionally grounded and real looking. She’s not in a rush to win a title.

Dern (11-1) faces her hardest take a look at to this point in Rodriguez (14-1-2), a 34-year-old Brazilian fighter. She is coming off a five-round essential occasion towards Michelle Waterson in May. Rodriguez is one of many prime strikers within the division — an space wherein Dern is nonetheless a work in progress — and he or she’ll maintain a top and attain benefit on this matchup.

Rodriguez is the UFC’s No. 6-ranked strawweight getting into the weekend, and he or she’s an intriguing title challenger in her personal proper. But there is no query that this stage is set for Dern to take the following step, to continue her improvement and path toward a potential UFC title.

When you transition into MMA with Dern’s type of background and accomplishments — she’s a multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion — these are the expectations. Not that everybody believed Dern was a shoo-in for a UFC title the second she put on a pair of MMA gloves, however it additionally felt like a actual chance. And it’s feeling an increasing number of actual with each battle.

Saturday’s fights are on ESPN+, with the primary card beginning at 4 p.m. ET and prelims at 1:30 p.m.

Numbers matchup: 4 vs. 48.9

4: First-round submissions by Dern, probably the most by a girl in UFC historical past, giving her a median battle time of 8 minutes, 22 seconds, the third shortest within the historical past of the strawweight division (minimal 5 fights). Dern earned her 4 submissions utilizing three strategies: rear bare choke, armbar and kneebar. Her kneebar of Hannah Cifers in May 2020 was the primary leg-lock submission in ladies’s UFC historical past.

48.9: Percentage of Rodriguez’s important strike makes an attempt that hit their goal, the third-highest accuracy charge amongst energetic UFC strawweights (minimal 5 UFC fights and 350 makes an attempt). Only Angela Hill (50.1%) and Joanna Jedrzejczyk (49.4%) have been extra on the mark.

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats

And another variety of curiosity …

Saturday’s full battle card

ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET
Strawweight: Mackenzie Dern vs. Marina Rodriguez
Welterweight: Randy Brown vs. Jared Gooden
Men’s flyweight: Tim Elliott vs. Matheus Nicolau
Women’s flyweight: Sabina Mazo vs. Mariya Agapova
ESPN+, 2 p.m. ET
Men’s bantamweight: Chris Gutierrez vs. Felipe Colares
Heavyweight: Alexandr Romanov vs. Jared Vanderaa
Men’s featherweight: Charles Rosa vs. Damon Jackson
Strawweight: Loopy Godinez vs. Silvana Gomez Juarez
Lightweight: Steve Garcia vs. Charlie Ontiveros

The greatest wager to make is ….

Matheus Nicolau (-190) vs. Tim Elliott (+175)

After three straight losses, the seasoned veteran Elliot bounced again in a good means by getting back-to-back victories over Ryan Benoit and Jordan Espinosa. In his most up-to-date battle, Elliott’s ahead stress along with his placing and prime recreation was an excessive amount of for Espinosa to deal with. Where Elliott has struggled is in permitting takedowns too simply and being too comfy combating off of his again. He additionally has a tendency, as a result of his confidence in his floor recreation, to permit himself into compromising positions, which has gotten him in bother.

If he permits Nicolau to dictate the tempo and accepts his takedowns, Elliott will probably be in for a lengthy night time. Nicolau confirmed nice poise in his final outing towards Manel Kape. He stayed affected person and did a wonderful job of blending his punches and calf kicks. He confused Kape, after which, when least anticipated, he bought the battle to the ground. That is the place he is at his greatest. I count on a related recreation plan towards Elliott. I imagine Nicolau is the higher striker (pace, energy and effectivity), and if he can put Elliott on his again, he can stroll away with one other win, including a nice identify to his resume. Pick: Matheus Nicolau at -190.

— Ian Parker

How to look at the fights

Watch all the fights on ESPN+. Download the ESPN App

Don’t have ESPN+? Get it right here.

There’s additionally FightHeart, which gives reside updates for each UFC card.

Four extra issues to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)

1. Randy Brown, who faces Jared Gooden, will probably be in search of to turn out to be the tenth welterweight in UFC historical past with 4 submission victories. Gooden is a finisher, too, with 14 of them in 18 profession wins.

2. Tim Elliott is a acquainted face. His battle with Matheus Nicolau will probably be his fifteenth battle within the UFC’s flyweight division, which is able to tie former champion Demetrious Johnson for third most within the division’s historical past, behind Joseph Benavidez (19) and Jussier Formiga (16).

3. Sabina Mazo lands 6.56 strikes per minute, the second-best common amongst ladies within the UFC, behind solely Joanne Calderwood (6.75). Mazo faces flyweight Mariya Agapova, who has not fought since dropping to Shana Dobson in an August 2020 bout wherein Agapova was a -1500 betting favourite — the heaviest odds by a dropping favourite within the UFC since 2007.

4. Heavyweight Alexandr Romanov is 14-0, with all finishes (8 KO/TKO, 5 submissions) previous to his most up-to-date outing, a split-decision victory in April. Romanov faces Jared Vanderaa.

ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim additionally contributed to this battle preview.

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