Mackenzie Dern (T) (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Rodriguez Preview and Predictions

The women’s strawweight championship will be on the line at UFC 268 on Nov. 6, as current champion Rose Namajunas will rematch Weili Zhang. However, this weekend the next title contender will emerge as a pair of rising stars will clash in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Rodriguez. Both Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez sport one-loss records and find themselves inside the division’s top ten.

Dern sits at number four in the rankings on the heels of a four-fight winning streak that includes three “Performance of the Night” bonuses. Rodriguez is the sixth-ranked strawweight and is coming off the two biggest victories of her career – a TKO win over Amanda Ribas and a unanimous decision victory over perennial contender Michelle Waterson. The winner of this weekend’s main event will certainly be knocking loudly for a chance to fight for the strawweight title.

The co-main event is a welterweight showdown between two supremely talented fighters who have largely flown under the radar with Randy Brown squaring off against Jared Gooden. This high profile spot on the fight card will be the perfect spot for one of these proven finishers and all-action fighters to make an emphatic statement that they are ready to compete among the elite fighters at 170 pounds.


The main card also includes a men’s flyweight bout between former title challenger Tim Elliott and Matheus Nicolau in what is sure to be a high-paced affair for as long as it lasts. Additionally, a women’s flyweight bout between Sabina Mazo and Mariya Agapova is slated to air on the main card as both women look to rebound from losses in their last outings. Opening up the main card is a middleweight contest between Phil Hawes and Deron Winn. Winn will look to become the first fighter to defeat Hawes inside the UFC.

UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Rodriguez will be held inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nev. It is a matinee affair of sorts with the prelims beginning at 1 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 4 p.m. ET. The event can be seen in its entirety streaming on ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go toe-to-toe.

Mackenzie Dern’s only loss came to Amanda Ribas, who Marina Rodriguez defeated earlier this year. Does Dern prove that MMA math doesn’t work and pick up a win over Rodriguez?

Sumian: The women’s UFC strawweight division is undoubtedly the most entertaining and talent-packed division in women’s martial arts today with numerous contenders making splashes in the rankings and providing fans with memorable performances. Dern and Rodriguez represent two of the division’s most compelling top-ranked contenders who have yet to have a chance of fighting for the belt. In recent years, the division has been dominated by the likes of Weili Zhang, Rose Namajunas, Jéssica Andrade and Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Despite this dominance, the division has been able to support the addition of continuous new talent which has led to a new wave of notable contenders with title aspirations. On Oct. 9, the mixed martial arts world will find out which strawweight contender is ready to take the next step and earn themselves a step closer to a potential shot at UFC royalty.

Rodriguez’s win over Ribas was certainly one I was not expecting going into their UFC 257 main card bout. Ribas was riding a wave of hype and praise going into that bout with many believing she was destined to make a statement against Rodriguez and earn herself a high-profile fight after establishing an impressive 10-1 professional record. Rodriguez had other plans and scored a stunning second-round TKO over Ribas, effectively stealing any recent hype that Ribas had accumulated. This led to a short-notice main event bout against longtime UFC standout Michelle Waterson. It was the Brazilian’s first main-event appearance. As expected, Rodriguez convincingly defeated Waterson using her precise and high-volume striking to score a unanimous decision victory. Currently ranked at sixth in the division, and perhaps one win away from a title eliminator bout, Rodriguez will have to bring everything she’s got when she takes on the talented submission guru Dern.

To this day, Dernremains one of the most notable UFC additions due to her impeccable grappling resume and impressive 6-1 promotional record. The Arizona native is currently riding a four-fight winning streak, most recently submitting Nina Nunes and earning herself “Performance of the Night” honors. Dern is certainly one of the, if not the, most skilled submission grappler in the division today and looks to impose her dominance by getting the fight to the ground where it is only a matter of time before she secures a favorable position and moves in on a submission attempt. After figuring out her weight cutting issues, and putting together a four-win streak, the fourth-ranked strawweight will look to extend her winning streak to five. She will undoubtedly find herself in a title fight eliminator for her next UFC appearance.

This fight will truly be another story of who is able to implement their game plan more successfully. Rodriguez will look to keep this fight on the feet where she can continuously circle away from Dern as she fires off power leg kicks, knees and jabs to keep as much distance as possible. Dern will likely turn to her proficient grappling and get Rodriguez to the ground where she can secure dominant positions, rain down ground-and-pound strikes before finally securing a submission.

This bout will be as high-level as they come with both women being able to successfully demonstrate their strengths. The one thing to note here is that Rodriguez’s sole loss came courtesy of Carla Espazra, who is a dominant wrestler in her own right. Despite the bout being an extremely close split-decision loss for Rodriguez, Esparza was able to find success implementing her grappling. Dern will do the same in this bout and earn herself a unanimous decision victory after a back-and-forth, five-round battle. Expect a title eliminator showdown for Dern in her next UFC appearance as one of the UFC’s brightest stars.

Petela: There is not much to add to my colleague’s breakdown in regards to each main-event fighter’s gameplan. The only thing he is wrong about is the end result. The Carla Esparza fight is an important one to draw back on. Esparza is a lifelong wrestler who can chain takedowns together, going from double-leg to single-leg, and vice versa, as her opponent tries to evade. As accomplished as Dern is as a jiu-jitsu player, she doesn’t have anywhere close to the wrestling chops of Carla Esparza. She will struggle to get the takedown in open space, and Rodriguez will make her pay for it with crisp combinations early and often. Dern may eventually get the fight to the canvas, but Rodriguez is well versed enough in MMA grappling to avoid a submission or taking any serious damage on the canvas. It will be Rodriguez who will get her hand raised after a grueling five rounds.

Randy Brown has won three out of his last four fights. Does he make it four out of five this weekend by defeating Jared Gooden?

Petela: Yes. This fight might not have the casual fan excited, solely because it lacks the big names that typically come along with a co-main event slot, but this showdown will be entertaining from start to finish. The three most recent wins for Brown have all been finishes, picking up a TKO over Bryan Barberena and a pair of submission victories over Warlley Alves and Alex Oliveira. He is an all-action fighter who rarely needs the judges’ scorecards en route to victory. In total, 11 of his 13 wins have come before the sound of the final bell. He can get it done on the feet or on the mat with six knockout victories and five by way of submission. His lone loss in his recent stretch of success came against Vicente Luque, perhaps the most dangerous fighter in the welterweight division outside of champion Kamaru Usman.

Gooden is no slouch and is a finisher in his own right. He has a total of 14 stoppage victories and needed just over a minute to win his last bout against Niklas Stolze. He is going to have his share of success early on in this fight and will push Brown. But, faced with a dance partner like Gooden, fans will see the full array of skills that Brown brings to the cage each and every time out. Expect both fighters to go for broke in the third after a closely contested first two rounds with Brown earning a late stoppage in a fight worthy of a standing ovation from the small group of fans in the UFC Apex this weekend.

Sumian: Despite the significant lapse in judgement on my colleague’s main event pick, I wholeheartedly agree on his complete and concise breakdown of a fireworks display in the co-main event. Gooden overcame adversity after dropping two straight bouts in the UFC to rebound swiftly with a stunning knockout of Niklas Stolze. The Alabama native has what it takes to compete well in the UFC. However, Brown remains the better fighter at this point in their careers and will outpace Gooden, earning a win via unanimous decision..

What fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Petela: Deron Winn. After starting his UFC run with a “Fight of the Night” win over Eric Spicely, things haven’t necessarily gone as planned for Winn. After winning his debut, he missed weight before dropping a split decision to Darren Stewart. and followed that with a submission loss to Gerald Meerschaert, a fight after which he tested positive for amphetamines. Winn got back on track in his last outing against Antonio Arroyo, but that was a catchweight fight at 195 pounds. Arroyo is no longer on the UFC roster. If he struggles on the scale or in the cage against Phil Hawes this weekend, it might be the end of the line with the UFC for the Daniel Cormier protégé.

Sumian: Laureano Staropoli. After compiling a 9-1 professional card, which included two wins in the UFC, the Argentina native has hit a freight train resulting in three straight losses to Muslim Salikhov, Tim Means and Roman Dolidze. Jamie Pickett will add a fourth straight loss to Staropoli’s record and unfortunately send him packing.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Sumian: Despite this flyweight bout being on the main card, the showdown between Matheus Nicolau and Tim Elliott is undoubtedly a favorite for a potential fight of the night. Both of these scrappy flyweights combine for 18 professional finishes throughout their careers and will come ready to put on a show. Fan favorite Elliott has earned himself a pair of “Fight of the Night” accolades in the past and will find himself a suitable dance partner once the bell rings on Saturday night. Expect 15 minutes of total entertainment, as the two continuously scramble and push each other to new limits.

Petela: Charles Rosa vs. Damon Jackson. This prelim is a grappling fan’s dream come true. Rosa certainly has the edge on paper since he is a black belt in jiu-jitsu under Ricardo Liborio, whereas Jackson is a purple belt. However, Jackson is certainly at the black belt level in terms of jiu-jitsu for MMA with 14 wins by submission. This fight will be a high-level grappling display complete with slick transitions and nonstop positional battles before one of these two sneaks in a submission.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Petela: Sabina Mazo. That might be a bit of an unconventional pick but her clash with Mariya Agapova will steal the show and the “Colombian Queen” will gain her first post-fight bonus since joining the UFC. Mazo came up short in her bantamweight debut the last time she fought, but the move back down to flyweight will see her with an extra spring in her step, and she will pick up a TKO against a very dangerous opponent.

Sumian: Alexander Romanov. This powerful heavyweight phenom will earn his fourteenth-straight victory, further cementing his undefeated record when he submits Jared Vanderaa. Vanderaa is a talented heavyweight in his own right, but will find himself outmatched and suffer a fairly quick submission defeat. Romanov is quietly approaching the top 15 of the heavyweight division.

Pair this card with…

Sumian: Despite a fairly weak supporting cast, this card is definitely enticing due to the significance of the main event. The winner of Rodriguez and Dern could find themselves fighting for a title in the first half of 2022, depending on how things go in the rematch between Zhang and Namajunas in November. As a result, let’s go with the popular phrase “a breath of fresh air.” The division has been in need of a fresh face ready to take the next step and earn themselves a title shot after UFC fans seeing the same few faces continuously fighting for the strawweight title. This will come to fruition on Saturday night when the winner earns herself a title eliminator bout and a shot to become the best in the world.

Petela: This is another fight card without a ton of marquee names that will outperform its expectations. Since it’s October, it’s pumpkin season. So, pair this card with a Pumpkin Blend cider from Downeast Cider House. I’ve been beating the drum of Downeast Cider for a few years because their products are delicious and don’t get the recognition that they should, just like this fight card.

Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
SW: Mackenzie Dern vs. Marina Rodriguez Dern Rodriguez
WW: Randy Brown vs. Jared Gooden Brown Brown
FlyW: Tim Elliott vs. Matheus Nicolau Nicolau Elliott
Women’s FlyW: Sabina Mazo vs. Mariya Agapova Mazo Mazo
MW: Phil Hawes vs. Deron Winn Hawes Winn
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 1 p.m. ET)
BW: Chris Gutierrez vs. Felipe Colares Gutierrez Gutierrez
MW: Jamie Pickett vs. Laureano Staropoli Pickett Pickett
HW: Alexander Romanov vs. Jared Vanderaa Romnaov Romanov
FW: Charles Rosa vs. Damon Jackson Jackson Rosa
SW: Lupita Godinez vs. Sam Hughes Godinez Godinez
LW: Steve Garcia vs. Charlie Ontiveros Garcia Garcia