Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Mackenzie Dern’s second UFC main event came against kickboxing specialist Yan Xiaonan, making her main event debut at UFC Vegas 61 on Saturday.
This classic striking versus grappling match-up had clear paths to victory for either fighter, with the fight being a matter of whose style would reign supreme. Although Dern had lost her first main event against Marina Rodriguez two fights ago she came into this bout having won five of her last six. Meanwhile, Yan Xiaonan had lost her last two, including a split decision against Marina Rodriguez, after winning her first six UFC fights. The winner of this fight would be within spitting distance of a title shot in the strawweight division.
Dern came right out of the gate, ate a side kick from Xiaonan, and charged forward to land a right hand. She clearly was not afraid to strike with the kickboxer, but early on she was getting tagged frequently and the side kicks to the knees of Dern threatened to affect her as the fight wore on.
Yan made sure to land a strike or combination of strikes, then circle out so as not to get clinched and potentially taken down by the BJJ master. Halfway through the round Dern charged forward, got into the clinch, and grabbed a single leg. Xiaonan kept her balance for a while and was eventually able to get her foot back to the ground. Dern chased her across the cage to keep control in the clinch with the overhook but Yan was able to extricate her arm and get back to striking.
Dern then tried grabbing Xiaonan’s arm and pulling guard when she failed another takedown but Yan was successful in avoiding grappling yet again. Mackenzie then weathered the strikes of Yan and delivered her own to get into the clinch. She tried a hip toss but ended up with her own back taken briefly by Xiaonan. Right before the bell Dern reversed the position and got top position but ran out of time in the round. The first round was clearly 10-9 Xiaonan as her time at Team Alpha Male had clearly improved her defensive wrestling since her loss to Carla Esparza where it was lacking.
Dern came out with intensity in the striking in round two, showing her chin and total lack of fear. Dern got dumped to the ground off of a kick but she used the guard to pull Yan on top of her and initiate grappling. As Xiaonan tried to stand up, Dern tried to get a reversal or submission, but ate strikes to the head for her trouble. However, Dern ignored the damage as she tried to hunt for a leglock. Dern then swiveled, grabbed an omoplata, and got on Yan’s back partially with the omoplata still locked up somewhat. She then settled into an arm triangle.
Yan defended by grabbing her arms through her legs and it succeeded in creating enough space for her to survive the deep arm triangle, but Dern transitioned to full mount and rained down strikes, forcing Xiaonan to give up her back with a minute left in the round. Punches rained down nonstop from Dern as she tried to open up the neck of Yan. With thirty seconds left Dern switched to an armbar, then a triangle, but Xiaonan avoided both and gave up her back again as she ate continued strikes.
It was a victory for Yan to survive to the end of the round but the BJJ specialist had gotten a lead with a clear 10-8 round.
The flow of the first round and early second round continued early in round three until Dern pulled guard and dragged Xiaonan down with her. However, Yan was able to escape and stand back up, unlike in round two. Lateral movement was successful for Xiaonan in letting her stay away from the clinch and land strikes consistently. Halfway through the round a big right hand wobbled Dern, sending her backwards, but Xiaonan was reluctant to press the issue to much, likely due to the takedown threat. After three minutes, Dern caught a body kick from Xiaonan but the Chinese fighter avoided the takedown once again.
The attritional damage of Yan was wearing on the legs, body, and head of Mackenzie. With only a few seconds left Dern managed a head and arm throw but the bell rang only after she landed a handful of short strikes. The scorecards were likely all tied up going into the championship rounds.
Dern came out with forward pressure again in round four. After thirty seconds she shot a single leg takedown but Xiaonan’s balance once again stayed true and kept her on her feet. Back on the feet, Xiaonan landed several extremely significant strikes and Dern’s face was red as a tomato. A turning side kick from Xiaonan with ninety seconds left allowed Dern to clinch up and drag her opponent to the ground, albeit on top of her. Dern got into bottom full guard with one minute left and looked to work off her back. She attempted numerous armbars but never got close enough to truly threaten until the last second when she appeared to lock one up right as the buzzer sounded. In Dern’s corner Jason Parillo told her she was down 3-1 and needed to get the fight to the ground quickly so she would have the best chance to get a stoppage.
The pair came out swinging hard for the fences in the final frame and Dern was able to quickly get into the clinch. She dragged Xiaonan to the ground with an incredibly unorthodox throw and after a brief scramble she ended up on top, in three-quarter mount. She passed to full mount and began to look to isolate an arm. She punched to soften Xiaonan up and almost had the arm when Xiaonan turned to her back to escape. Constant punches rained down from Dern from Yan’s back. Halfway through the round Yan made progress by clearing a hook but Dern put it right back in and continued to hammerfist the side of Xiaonan’s head while looking for the rear-naked choke. Yan’s turtling up made it extremely hard for even a black belt of the pedigree of Dern to get under the neck. Eventually, Dern stepped over Yan’s shoulder to look for an armbar. With twenty seconds left she was fighting with all her might to get the armbar but with ten seconds left Yan pulled her arm out and the pair ended the fight throwing punches at each other – Xiaonan on top and Dern from her back.
Round five was a domination much like round two, but it was up to the judges as to how it was scored— although Yan Xiaonan clearly won the other three rounds. Who would get the nod was anyone’s guess and scorecards on social media were all over the place as far as 10-8 rounds, albeit within the same general realm of three rounds to two. When Bruce Buffer read out the scorecards everyone was tense. He announced the decision as a majority decision, with one judge scoring the fight a draw and the other two seeing it 48-47.
Official Result: Yan Xiaonan def. Mackenzie Dern by majority decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-47)