UFC Vegas 39: A New Contender to Emerge in Dern vs Rodriguez

Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez UFC Vegas 39
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 08: (L-R) Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on October 08, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Mackenzie Dern has been on the verge of a breakthrough for years, but Marina Rodriguez could steal her hype with an impressive victory at UFC Vegas 39.

The last year and a half has seen Mackenzie Dern grow into the prospect the UFC once hoped she would become.  Back in 2016 when she was scoring Submission of the Year candidates, Dern’s charm and grappling brilliance had several attaching the label of “the next Ronda Rousey” to her despite still being a budding professional.  Inside the cage, she held up her end by getting off to a 7-0 start.  Outside the cage, questions about her commitment lingered.  Multiple weight misses and rumors of a lack of discipline in camp led to questions of whether or not she could develop into an elite fighter.

Dern had something to prove following her first career loss in 2019, and she answered in brilliant fashion.  Making the move to work with coach Jason Parillo at RVCA, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace reeled off four straight victories to become a legitimate contender in the competitive strawweight division.  At a time when the division is on the cusp of a turnover following the upcoming rematch between Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili, a Dern victory would lead to an exciting new player being added to the title picture.

The same can be said for Marina Rodriguez who is on the cusp of her own breakthrough.  After opening her career 10-0 and earning a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series: Brazil, she struggled to gain momentum.  She defeated Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar and went to a draw with Randa Markos and Cynthia Calvillo in her first four fights in the Octagon.  In 2020, she ran into the resurgent Carla Esparza who handed her her first professional loss.

Going into January, Rodriguez was expected to be competitive showcase for breakout star Amanda Ribas on the undercard of the rematch between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.  While Ribas commanded most of the attention, Rodriguez announced herself to the division by delivering a rousing second round knockout.  The victory led to another high profile opportunity, a short notice fight with perennial contender Michelle Waterson that she won decisively.  Now up against another popular contender in Mackenzie Dern, Rodriguez could steal her hype should she deliver another spectacular finish.

While Dern has displayed impressive growth in her striking, a stand-up battle favors Rodriguez in most every scenario so the former jiu-jitsu champion should look to use a multi-faceted attack that is built on setting up her takedowns.  Should Dern struggle to get Rodriguez down, then her best opportunity will be to force Rodriguez to fight with her back to the fence and force her to fight off her heels.  Rodriguez will do her best work at mid-range where she can utilize her boxing to full effect and where it will be the easiest to defend Dern’s takedown attempts.  Rodriguez has been proven in five round fights before and if the fight goes the distance it will be Dern’s first time fighting the full 25 minutes.

The future for the winner will be dependent on what the champion does following UFC 268 in November.  Should the Namajunas versus Zhang winner elect to stay active and compete in the first half of 2022, then they will likely face top contender Carla Esparza next.  In which case, Dern or Rodriguez could face either the loser of Namajunas and Zhang or possibly Joanna Jędrzejczyk should a deal be made for the former champion to return.  If the champion remains out of action for a longer period of time, then a possible title eliminator with Esparza would be the most likely scenario.