Preview: UFC Fight Night 194 ‘Dern vs. Rodriguez’

Dern vs. Rodriguez

By Tom Feely Oct 8, 2021


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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to the UFC Apex for UFC Fight Night 194, which is essentially a one-bout show. Women’s strawweights take center stage, as Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez collide in an interesting headliner that should see the winner get a chance to break into the 115-pound elite and move ever closer to title contention. Beyond that pairing, the co-main event between Randy Brown and Jared Good figures to generate excitement without immediate stakes, and the Tim Elliott-Matheus Nicolau flyweight showcase is a well-booked match that gives each man a chance to stand out in a tightly packed division. Add in another chance for Phil Hawes to build on a strong 2021 campaign thus far, and there have been worse cards on paper.

Now to the preview of the UFC Fight Night “Dern vs. Rodriguez” main card:

Women’s Strawweights

#4 WSW | Mackenzie Dern (11-1, 6-1 UFC) vs. #6 WSW | Marina Rodriguez (14-1-2, 4-1-2 UFC)

ODDS: Dern (-165), Rodriguez (+145)

Dern is starting to figure things out, which is going to be a problem for the rest of the strawweight division. She was a no-brainer to quickly get signed by a major promotion. Born into Brazilian jiu-jitsu royalty, she has essentially been grappling since birth and is one of the most decorated female submission artists in history. Add in that she has charisma and a marketable look, and as long as she proved to be somewhat adept at mixed martial arts, she figured to be learning on the job against tougher opposition as soon as possible. Indeed, it was less than two years between Dern’s pro debut and her first fight inside the Octagon, and it was a rougher start than most would have anticipated. Her UFC debut against Ashley Yoder resulted in an ugly split decision win, as Dern struggled to get to her grappling. Then there was a bad weight miss before a quick win over Amanda Bobby Brundage. Dern then took some time off due to pregnancy, and while she came back with her weight issues under control, she suffered a surprisingly definitive loss to Amanda Ribas upon her return. After another decent-sized layoff near the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Dern has showed some impressive signs of progress. Her wins over Hannah Cifers and Randa Markos did not reveal much; her wrestling still was not where it needed to be, but each opponent provided enough openings that Dern eventually found a quick submission. However, a victory over Virna Jandiroba to cap 2020 answered a lot of questions. Faced with a fellow grappler, Dern managed to set a high pace and win an entertaining war over the course of 15 minutes. While her form was not the best, Dern showed the ability to connect with power and fight through adversity: She suffered a broken nose but continued to take over for the win. Dern’s most recent appearance resulted in an April 10 victory over Nina Nunes and was promising in a different way. It took two tries, but Dern finally hit her first takedown since the Yoder fight, which in turn eventually led to a submission finish. It may not mean much going forward, but Dern is such a venomous grappler that any improvement in terms of getting the fight to the mat figures to pay massive dividends. Even with all she has yet to work on, Dern has still put together a strong enough resume that she appears to be a win or two away from title contention. Up next is her toughest test to date against Rodriguez.

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Brazil’s Rodriguez is now well-established as a strawweight contender and main eventer, as she has found a surprising amount of success with an interesting mix of strengths and weaknesses. Rodriguez came to the UFC as an obviously talented muay Thai artist with a long frame, even if she did not pop as a particularly explosive athlete. That led to some strange matchups over the course of her first four UFC fights, particularly against Markos and Cynthia Calvillo—two fighters who are at their best on the mat but inconsistent as far as actually taking the fight there. Each of those fights ended in a draw, following much the same script. When either Markos or Calvillo looked to lean on their wrestling, they nearly finished the fight and scored a 10-8 round, but they were otherwise surprisingly content to keep the fight standing and get pieced up on the feet by Rodriguez. Outside of that, Rodriguez’s victories were impressive, particularly a 2019 win over Tecia Torres in which she showed a solid level of first-layer takedown defense against a much smaller opponent. Eventually, Rodriguez ran into a dogged enough wrestler to beat her in Carla Esparza, but the Brazilian rebounded well, scoring a knockout victory over Ribas on Jan. 23 before winning her first main event against Michelle Waterson in May. At 34 years of age, Rodriguez is probably a finished product at this point, but she has a path towards title contention with another win.

It does feel like Dern is getting this matchup at exactly the right time, or the wrong time for Rodriguez, depending on your perspective. Dern’s lack of a wrestling game has been the main factor holding her back, and up until her last fight, it would have been a solid assumption that Rodriguez’s decent level of takedown defense would be enough to keep this on the feet and peck her way to a decision. However, based on the Nunes win, it seems much likelier that Dern has enough in terms of power and form to at least get the ball rolling towards some grappling exchanges; and while Rodriguez has some decent submission skills, she has shown enough bad decision making in that phase that it is close to inevitable that Dern would find a submission sooner rather than later. There is some intrigue, though. It is still far from a lock that Dern can get this to the ground, and her aggression on the feet could just wind up turning a Rodriguez counter into a knockout punch. Given that Dern has also shown off some durability, most of the indicators are pointing towards her getting the win, and if she does so, it is likely to be quick. The pick is Dern via first-round submission.

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