It felt very much as if it were time for Mackenzie Dern to make a run at the top of the strawweight division heading into UFC Vegas 39.
The BJJ expert entered Saturday riding the crest of four straight wins, and was coming off a Performance of the Night submission over fellow contender Nina Nunes. While the finish came on the ground, Dern held her own on the feet, and if she could do the same at UFC Vegas 39 against Marina Rodriguez, she could be set for something much bigger moving forward.
Rodriguez, likewise, has flirted with the top of the division, and was sitting at #6 in the women’s 115lb weight class— just behind the #4 ranked Dern.
Dern held center early in the octagon in Saturday’s main event, and began firing combos. She had to be careful, getting sloppy with a kick and almost giving up position; she was also having trouble landing, with Rodriguez’s leg kicks being the real difference maker through the first half of the frame.
However, just past the midway mark of the round, Dern punched her way in and went after the takedown. Rodriguez tied her up and landed a nasty elbow to the ribs, which had Dern repositioning; Rodriguez would eventually push off and move back to center. With Dern unable to get the fight down, the first frame was likely scored for Marina Rodriguez.
Dern went back to the takedown attempt early in the second, but Rodriguez easily fought it off. On a second attempt, Dern punched her way in, and this time put Rodriguez on her back. Impressively, Rodriguez worked for a d’arce off her back, but when she lost it, she was out of position and in a tight spot. What followed was jiu-jitsu brilliance from Mackenzie Dern. She trapped both hands, used her feet and hips to manipulate a sort of improvised arm-bar, flowed smoothly between positions, and even landed some ground n’ pound at the end of the round.
As brilliant as Dern was on the ground in the second, in the third, she couldn’t get the fight there. Instead, Rodriguez got her kicks going early, kept Dern at a distance, and picked her apart on the feet. A head kick from Rodriguez nearly connected clean. Fatigue appeared to be a factor for Dern, who slowed and got sloppy with her striking as the round wore on. Rodriguez finished the frame fending off a takedown.
Rodriguez finding her range here in the third 👊
— UFC (@ufc) October 9, 2021
A groin strike by Rodriguez paused the action briefly at the start of round four, but Dern didn’t take much in the way of recovery time. Another takedown was stuffed by Rodriguez; every attempt fought off was a confidence boost for her, and a drag on the tiring Dern. As the round wore on, Rodriguez was light on her feet, and she tad her timing down. When Dern did close the distance, the takedowns weren’t there, and she was being backed up at times. Rodriguez’s knees were a threat as well, and when Dern turned her back, the Brazilian fired a kick across Dern’s shoulders.
Then, with under a minute in the fourth, Dern got the fight down, moved to mount, and began dropping ground n’ pound. With seconds ticking away, she transitioned to an arm-bar attempt, but couldn’t secure it.
🇧🇷 @WMMARZ is feeling it in the fourth 🔥
— UFC (@ufc) October 9, 2021
The fifth and final frame saw Rodriguez looking to keep Dern on the outside again. Dern pressed forward, but it was Rodriguez catching her about two minutes in. Dern nearly caught a leg after that, and briefly pushed her opponent against the cage. She also managed to land a few solid punches; Rodriguez was soon showing some damage around one eye. The remainder of the fight would play out on the feet, with Dern trying in vain to find a takedown. Rodriguez had one last flurry before it went to the scorecards.
If Saturday was a litmus test for Mackenzie Dern, it’s back to the drawing board. As good as her jiu-jitsu looked, her striking remains a work in progress. Marina Rodriguez, meanwhile, showed she’s well-rounded and ready to land a spot in the top five.
Official Result: Marina Rodriguez def. Mackenzie Dern by unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46)