Kay Hansen (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: UFC on ESPN+ 41

UFC on ESPN+ 41, also known as The Card That Kept Changing, takes place on Saturday, and we are being treated to three very interesting female bouts. Each one is interesting for its own reasons, but all three have a chance to end in multiple ways. So, I am here to do my best to give you some insight into them. Let’s get started.

Kay Hansen vs. Cory McKenna

Hansen comes into this one after a successful UFC debut in which she defeated Jinh Yu Frey with a third-round armbar. Hansen is a very well-rounded fighter who really doesn’t get enough credit for her striking. She had some trouble on the feet against Frey, but lots of fighters have had their trouble on the feet against Frey. While McKenna does have both a submission and a ground-and-pound win on her resume, Hansen is going to have the advantage on the ground here.

After some initial feeling out, the ground is where Hansen will look to take the fight. That’s not to say she can’t strike — she can, and she can win on the feet — but when you have an advantage, you seize it. However, she probably doesn’t look for it immediately. Sometimes the best way to get a takedown is by making your opponent think you aren’t interested in the takedown. So, we may see Hansen stay up for the entire first round, lull McKenna into that thought, and then she can maybe get it easier in round two.


So, let’s assume the fight stays up for the first round. What will Hansen want to do? Most likely, she’ll avoid a brawl. She will look to land some combos, end them with kicks, get out, reset, and do it again. She might even get McKenna to pursue her, so McKenna burns some energy, which also makes those later takedown attempts a little easier for Hansen. Hansen will enjoy a reach advantage of several inches, so she can use that to her benefit as well and keep McKenna at range. Then, round two, let’s say she wants the takedown. If shes effectively used those get-in-and-out strikes, she can make it seem as if she’s going to do that again and can either use it to clinch and turn the clinch into the takedown or, if McKenna tries to throw a hard power shot, come in under that and maybe hit a double-leg takedown.

McKenna, meanwhile, comes in as a winner of three straight, including a win over Vanessa Demopoulos to earn a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series. In Hansen, she finds her toughest opponent to date. The one knock on McKenna — and I wouldn’t really call it a “knock” — is that she has not faced the toughest of competition. Yet, at her age and this young in her career, it’s hard to expect her to have done so.

McKenna isn’t great at anything, but she is good at everything. Her best route to a win here is to make it ugly. She won’t necessarily look to out-technique Hansen, but make it an ugly brawl of a fight. As much as she might not want a clinch battle, because Hansen can get her down and is as sneaky as anyone with submissions, she still might find success in the clinch if she can keep her back off the cage. She will want to be on the outside, make Hansen carry her weight, and throw elbows, knees and punches. Her head placement in the clinch and keeping her back off the cage will both be of huge importance. If the clinch game isn’t working, she has to resort to making it an ugly brawl. With the reach disadvantage, she’ll need to punch her way in close, use her jab, double it up, and work her way in.

Ashley Yoder vs. Miranda Granger

This fight is quite honestly both easy and hard to break down. Both fighters will be happy to see this one on the ground, and both can have success there.

Yoder comes in having dropped two straight. She’s badly in need of a win. Yoder is super tough and has never been finished. If the fight stays on the feet for any length before going to the ground — and it will go to the ground — she will want to slow the pace. Granger is aggressive, so Yoder has to slow the tempo and maybe get Granger off her game a bit and maybe even frustrated. A frustrated or overly anxious Granger might be easier to take down.

If Yoder gets the takedown, staying on top is of importance, so “position over submission” is a real thing for her. She can’t rush or make mistakes. She has to be content to win the round instead of rushing for a submission. If she’s on her back or gets put on her back, same thing: don’t make any mistakes trying to stand, as Granger can be quick to wrap up a submission. So, Yoder has to hold her close and look to see if a scramble or sweep opportunity is there. Winning rounds might be more important and the safer way to go for her.

Granger comes in after having suffered a defeat for the first time in her MMA career when she was choked out by Amanda Lemos. What makes Granger so dangerous is that she isn’t partial to any certain submission. She can grab the neck, an arm, or whatever is available. She can grab it and get the submission.

This will sound basic and unoriginal, but everything I said about Yoder, just reverse it, and that is what Granger needs to do. On the feet, she has to be aggressive, come forward, get Yoder backing up, and just keep going. She can’t let Yoder have the chance to try to set up her own takedowns. On the ground, Granger can win off her back or from the top, but she’ll want to be on top. If she gets on top, she’s not the “slow” type. She should not change that. Posture up, rain down the punches and elbows, keep Yoder in defensive mode, and eventually wait for a limb to become available.

Granger is not going to be looking to win on points. She is always looking to finish. She doesn’t need to fear the sweep or scramble as much, because she is really so capable off her back that she can find those same limbs available to her there.

I know this was a short and basic preview, but this is one where, to me, we know where the fight is going. All I can do is talk about what will happen when it gets there.

Randa Markos vs. Kanako Murata

Markos is taking this fight on short notice after having dropped two straight. In her last fight, she made a crucial mistake and dropped into the guard of Mackenzie Dern. Now, once again, she faces someone with a great ground game, only this time it’s a wrestler.

This fight will be a little different, though. If it goes to the ground, Markos will likely be on her back, and she will have things she can do there. However, before we get to the ground, let’s talk about the feet. Markos will likely want to abandon throwing kicks unless it’s just as a nuisance to keep Murata off of her. Her jab will be a big weapon. She will want to double and even triple it up. Assuming Markos doesn’t want to be put on her back, the best way to do that will be to continue to throw that jab and keep Murata at bay. When Murata throws multiple strikes, she at times will slide to her right. So, Markos might throw those jabs and have her left hand ready, because if Murata tries to answer and does slide right, then she can run right into Markos’ left hand.

In clinch situations, Markos must stay off the cage if possible. This might be asking too much, so getting her underhooks is important. One way Murata gets takedowns on the cage is to almost slide down her opponent, and those underhooks can prevent that. As weird as it sounds to consider it a “strategy,” Markos should use foot stomps to create a distraction and make Murata move her feet a little. This can cause Murata to have trouble planting and getting the takedown.

Now, let’s talk about the ground. Assuming Murata gets the takedown, Markos will want to get guard. Half guard or side control allows a great wrestler like Murata to really plant herself and lay on the ground-and-pound. Full guard gives Markos some options. She has the much longer legs, so that gives her a chance to use them to either try to kick Murata off of her or at least keep Murata down too far to land shots to the head. Best case, Markos can wait for Murata to posture up a bit and maybe get something such as a triangle.

Murata comes into her UFC debut on a long winning streak. She has not lost in almost four years, and any questions about her level of competition were answered in her two Invicta FC bouts where she beat Liana Pirosin and Emily Ducote.

One thing Murata does well that she will want to do here is to punch her way into the clinch or takedown. She’s shorter and has the shorter reach, so she’s likely to have Markos doing what I mentioned above: using the jab to keep Murata away. Murata will have to work her way in by perhaps throwing a multiple-punch combo and then dropping down to come in for a double leg. If Markos does throw kicks, Murata will want to check them, something she doesn’t always do. If she doesn’t, then she’s hurting her own power takedowns. In clinches, Murata will want to stay on the outside. If she’s against the cage, then Markos, as the bigger fighter, is going to have an advantage. If Murata stays on the outside, then she has so many takedown options. Murata is exceptionally good at flowing from one attempt to another. If one isn’t working, she goes to a different attempt quickly and smoothly.

This is a fight where it is important how Murata lands on the ground. Her ability to quickly adjust attempts can allow her to get a grasp of which will allow her to land in half guard or even side control, because that is where she wants to be. On the ground, Murata needs to be active. She can’t let Markos stall her out. She should make Markos constantly be on the defensive and not give her time to try to set up submissions or escapes.