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

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

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

5 years into her skilled profession, issues are going proper for Dern. The 28-year-old will journey a four-fight win streak into her first UFC essential occasion on Saturday when she meets Marina Rodriguez at UFC Battle Night time 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.

All the things appears to be clicking for Dern, who has recorded first-round submissions in three of her previous 4 appearances. She has created an ideal 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 substantial amount 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 combat in opposition to 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 check up to now in Rodriguez (14-1-2), a 34-year-old Brazilian fighter. She is coming off a five-round essential occasion in opposition to Michelle Waterson in Could. Rodriguez is without doubt one of the high strikers within the division — an space by which Dern continues to be a piece in progress — and he or she’ll maintain a peak and attain benefit on this matchup.

Rodriguez is the UFC’s No. 6-ranked strawweight coming into the weekend, and he or she’s an intriguing title challenger in her personal proper. However there isn’t any query that this stage is ready for Dern to take the subsequent step, to proceed her improvement and path towards a possible UFC title.

While 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 placed on a pair of MMA gloves, however it additionally felt like an actual chance. And it is feeling increasingly actual with each combat.

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

Numbers matchup: Four vs. 48.9

4: First-round submissions by Dern, essentially the most by a lady in UFC historical past, giving her a mean combat time of eight 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 Could 2020 was the primary leg-lock submission in ladies’s UFC historical past.

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

Sources: ESPN Stats & Data and UFC Stats

And yet one more variety of curiosity …

Saturday’s full combat card

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

The perfect wager to make is ….

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

After three straight losses, the seasoned veteran Elliot bounced again in a pleasant means by getting back-to-back victories over Ryan Benoit and Jordan Espinosa. In his most up-to-date combat, Elliott’s ahead strain along with his hanging and high sport was an excessive amount of for Espinosa to deal with. The place Elliott has struggled is in permitting takedowns too simply and being too comfy combating off of his again. He additionally tends, resulting from his confidence in his floor sport, 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 protracted evening. Nicolau confirmed nice poise in his final outing in opposition to 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 acquired the combat to the ground. That’s the place he’s at his finest. I anticipate an analogous sport plan in opposition to Elliott. I imagine Nicolau is the higher striker (velocity, energy and effectivity), and if he can put Elliott on his again, he can stroll away with one other win, including an ideal title to his resume. Choose: Matheus Nicolau at -190.

— Ian Parker

Easy methods to watch the fights

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

Do not have ESPN+? Get it here.

There’s additionally FightCenter, which provides reside updates for each UFC card.

4 extra issues to know (from ESPN Stats & Data)

1. Randy Brown, who faces Jared Gooden, will probably be in search of to grow to be the 10th 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 well-known face. His combat with Matheus Nicolau will probably be his 15th combat within the UFC’s flyweight division, which can 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 by which 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 (eight 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 combat preview.

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