UFC Vegas 23: Nunes and Dern Look to Propel Up the Rankings

Nina Nunes and Mackenzie Dern, UFC Vegas 23
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 09: (L-R) Opponents Nina Nunes and Mackenzie Dern face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on April 09, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Nina Nunes (formerly Ansaroff) will look to pick up where she left off in the strawweight division, but Mackenzie Dern is looking for her own breakthrough at UFC Vegas 23.

As the strawweight division has seemingly ushered in a new era behind champion Zhang Weilli, it is easy to forget just how close to title contention Nina Nunes (who has taken on the surname of wife Amanda Nunes) was prior to her hiatus.  Riding a four fight win-steak, “The Strina” had recorded victories over the likes of perennial contender Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill going into her last bout.  In June of 2019, she fought undefeated contender Tatiana Suarez in a fight that many saw as a potential title eliminator.  Though she came up short, the state of the title picture did not see her plummet and a climb back up the rankings was completely feasible.

The desire to build a family with her wife, current two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes, led to Nunes taking time away to have her daughter and Saturday’s contest will be her first in nearly two years.  How the layoff and changes will affect the 35 year old Nunes are x-factors going into the fight, but there is no doubt a victory would make for an even more compelling strawweight division going into the second half of 2021.

There are only a handful of women in the UFC who know what it’s like to resume their careers after becoming mothers and Mackenzie Dern is one of them.  The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace took her own hiatus from 2018 to 2019 to have her daughter, returning four months after giving birth.  While there is certainly plenty of common ground with Nunes going into their bout, Dern will be looking to spoil her foe’s return as she looks for her own ascension up the rankings.

After a decorated career in grappling, Dern has amassed a 10-1 record in mixed martial arts.  Starting her career 6-0, her abilities and marketability led to many penciling her as the next potential female megastar in mixed martial arts.  After stumbling against fellow rising star Amanda Ribas, Dern’s momentum stalled.  2020, however, saw her rebuild in impressive fashion after she submitted Hannah Cifers, Randa Markos, and went the distance with Virna Jandiroba.  A win over Nunes would be the biggest of her career on paper, and looking at the rankings would figure to propel her towards another high profile matchup.

A victory would put the winner in a position for a high profile matchup in the second half of 2021.  With the title picture locked in behind Rose Namajunas, Carla Esparza, and Yan Xiaonan, the winner would likely see Marina Rodriguez or the returning Tatiana Suarez in their next outing.