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Preview: UFC 224 ‘Nunes vs. Pennington’

Dern vs. Cooper



Strawweights

Mackenzie Dern (6-0) vs. Amanda Bobby Cooper (3-3)

Odds: Dern (-245), Cooper (+205)


Hyped prospect Dern lost some shine in escaping with a narrow split decision victory over Ashley Yoder just two months ago. But there is a reason her debut was so looked forward to. The former gi and no-gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion is lights-out when she gets the fight to the floor. If she can induce a scramble of any kind, even if she has to put herself in a disadvantageous position, she quickly puts her opponent in danger or transitions to the top. But so far in her short MMA career, she has struggled to force the fight in that direction with any consistency. In recent fights with Kaline Medeiros and Yoder, Dern would time a reactive shot well and get deep on the hips, but was unable to finish as often as not. The Arizona native looks for trips in the clinch but is a work in progress there as well. Medeiros was able to stall her out on the fence for long stretches and score with knees.

Dern is a willing, aggressive, and powerful striker but janky and off-balance. As you would expect, her defense and footwork are nearly non-existent. She wings overhands from the hip which are easy to avoid or block, but if they land, they land heavy. The flexibility she utilizes on the mat translates to dexterous kicks, even with her lead left leg, which she throws hard to the legs and head. She also frequently fires front kicks up the middle. Though she is improving bit by bit fight to fight, Dern is frequently out of range for her attacks, particularly her jab. When she gets swung on, she doesn’t slip so much as turn her head away, taking her eyes off her opponent and making herself an inviting target. But so far, her constant forward pressure and pop - she is a big strawweight - have put opponents on the back foot. Fear of getting taken down also makes them hesitant to open up on her.

On a side note, in the run-up to this fight, Dern said she was “invited to leave” the MMA Lab in Arizona. She had been splitting time between the Lab and California. Now all her training will be in the Los Angeles area: Checkmat and Leo Vieira for BJJ and Black House for striking.

Cooper is a former Golden Gloves champion, but she has rounded out her game nicely. In fact, she won her last two fights over Angela Magana and Anna Elmose on the strength of her wrestling and ground-and-pound. “ABC’s” hands are tight but not especially powerful. She fires two to three punches at a time and mixes in leg, side and front kicks, hitting Elmose with side kicks to the face on several occasions.

The BJJ purple belt is a smooth operator on the mat, though she obviously will not be able to hold a candle to Dern in this matchup. Cooper is active off her back when taken down, putting her feet on the hips to kick away and stand or climbing her guard high to threaten armbars and triangles. She has had her moments against two of the better grapplers in the division, Cynthia Calvillo and Tatiana Suarez, but ultimately succumbed to both. The Michigan native used an armbar to scramble on top of Suarez and a tripod sweep later, but her opponent’s heretofore unstoppable wrestling made her successes short-lived.

Dern’s striking and wrestling aren’t good, to put it bluntly, but she pushes a pace and hits hard. Despite the openings she leaves, her opponents are off-balance and reluctant to open up due to her aggression and reputation. And she basically needs to get it to the ground once to win the round, even if it’s late. Cooper is well-rounded, but she relies a lot on her wrestling and grappling because her striking isn’t all that dangerous. I’m picking Dern’s elite skill set over Cooper’s “jack of all trades, master of none” style. Dern by third-round submission is the pick.

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