In the Clinch - Dern & Rodriguez Ready to Battle, UFC Vegas 39In the Clinch - Dern & Rodriguez Ready to Battle, UFC Vegas 39In the Clinch – Dern & Rodriguez Ready to Battle, UFC Vegas 39 – Mackenzie Dern is on her way at 115 pounds, but now Marina Rodriguez is in her way.

Dern (11-1-0), 28, has silenced her critics over the past year with convincing wins over some quality opponents. Her striking has improved which has given her more openings to use her vaunted BJJ as we saw in her last bout against Nina Nunes.

It’s no surprise Dern is ranked No. 4, which she shares with China’s Yan Xiaonan. Rushing nothing since debuting in the UFC with some fanfare in March 2018, she is now in range of a potential title shot with champion Rose Namajunas.

But No. 6 Marina Rodriguez, 34, (14-1-2) has other ideas.

Rodriguez has a win over Amanda Ribas, the only fighter to blemish Dern’s record thus far. Like Dern, she has only one defeat, a tough split-decision to former champion Carla Esparza. Rodriguez has come a long way from her time on the Dana White Contender Series.

The striking advantage goes to Rodriguez while the edge on the ground swings go to Dern. Both fighters are deceptively good in their “weaker” areas.

The winner stays in the hunt for a title shot in the busy strawweight division. Namajunas is rematching former champion and No. 1 contender Weili Zhang at UFC 268 in November.

At the UFC Vegas 39 pre-fight press conference Wednesday, Rodriguez looked confident and seemed to understand the stakes. She will be looking for the knockout on Saturday.

Dern will be looking for the grappling and the submission. In fact, she’s tied with Canadian Gillian Robertson for the most submissions in the UFC women’s division history with four. If you give her an opportunity – like Randa Markos did – she will take it. She is the favourite, especially with the improved confidence in her striking.

You’ve got to give credit to Dern’s trainer, former pro boxer Jason Parilo, for that.

It’s going to be a chess game.

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