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3 reasons why Mackenzie Dern might be the biggest threat to UFC Strawweight champ Weili Zhang

Could Mackenzie Dern be the future UFC Strawweight champion?
Could Mackenzie Dern be the future UFC Strawweight champion?
Scott Newman
Modified 08 Apr 2021
Top 5 / Top 10

This weekend sees UFC Vegas 23 go down, and while the main event features Marvin Vettori and Kevin Holland, the undercard also has some intriguing bouts.

UFC Strawweight prospect Mackenzie Dern faces off with Nina Ansaroff in her biggest test to date. But could the grappling expert actually be the next UFC Strawweight champion?

Right now, Dern is probably more than one more fight away from a shot at champion Weili Zhang – who is set to defend her title against Rose Namajunas at UFC 261.

But with an impressive win this weekend, Dern’s title credentials would certainly increase.

With that in mind, here are three reasons why Mackenzie Dern is the biggest threat to UFC Strawweight champion Weili Zhang.

#1 Mackenzie Dern is the best grappler in the UFC Strawweight division

Mackenzie Dern
Mackenzie Dern's grappling credentials are second to none in the UFC Strawweight division.

With respect to outstanding wrestler Tatiana Suarez – who is currently on the shelf rehabbing a neck injury – it’s hard to dispute the idea that Mackenzie Dern is the best grappler operating in the UFC Strawweight division.

A grappler since her childhood, Dern is the daughter of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Wellington Megaton Dias.


And her accomplishments in the world of grappling rank as similar to her father’s. She was once ranked as world #1 by the International BJJ Federation and has won numerous grappling tournaments, including the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship and the ADCC World Championship.

Thus far, Dern’s grappling has translated well into the world of MMA, too. She’s picked up 10 wins, six of which have come via submission, including four in the UFC.

What’s interesting about this is that the top of the UFC’s Strawweight division is largely filled with strikers.

UFC champion Weili Zhang is most well-known for her striking, while Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk are both equally renowned kickboxers.

That means that Dern – if she could get any of the three to the ground – would almost certainly be favored to win any grappling exchange, making her a major threat to any fighter holding the UFC Strawweight title.

#2 Mackenzie Dern is improving rapidly with every fight

Mackenzie Dern
Mackenzie Dern's skills have improved in all areas over her time in the UFC.

Mackenzie Dern debuted in the UFC in 2018 and carried some substantial hype with her, thanks to her accomplishments in the world of grappling.

However, despite winning her first two fights, she flattered to deceive somewhat.

Her win over Ashley Yoder came via decision and saw her struggle to secure takedowns. And while her win over Amanda Cooper was more convincing, she then took over a year off to have her first child.

Upon her return in late 2019, she didn’t look in the best physical shape and was comfortably beaten by Amanda Ribas, who defended her takedowns and beat her up standing.

Since then, though, Dern has come on in leaps and bounds and has looked improved every time she’s set foot in the UFC’s Octagon.

2020 saw her win three fights. Firstly, she submitted Hannah Cifers with a beautiful kneebar.

She followed that up with another impressive submission win, this time over Randa Markos – and then outpointed Virna Jandiroba, showing off an improved stand-up game in the process.

And more to the point, Dern looks to be in the best shape of her career now, sporting a much leaner physique than when she initially joined the UFC.

It’s hardly a surprise when you consider that at 28 years old, she’s probably in her athletic prime right now.

And looking at her improvement thus far, if she continues on the same path, then there can be no doubt that she’ll be a genuine title contender in the near future – making her a major threat to the UFC Strawweight champion.

#3 Mackenzie Dern is now training with Jason Parillo

Mackenzie Dern
Mackenzie Dern's coach Jason Parillo (left), has led fighters like Michael Bisping to UFC gold in the past.

It’s hard to really play down how much effect a top coach can have on a fighter in the UFC. In fact, we’ve seen on numerous occasions that hooking up with the right coach can even transform a fighter into a UFC champion.

Rafael dos Anjos and Fabricio Werdum, for instance, both won UFC gold after training under Rafael Cordeiro. Meanwhile, Robbie Lawler claimed the UFC Welterweight title after joining American Top Team.

That’s why it’s such a big deal that Mackenzie Dern is now training under legendary coach Jason Parillo.

Not only is Parillo the man who helped BJ Penn, Cris Cyborg and Michael Bisping to claim UFC titles, but he’s also renowned as one of the best striking coaches in MMA.

So when you consider this, it should come as no surprise that Dern’s stand-up game looked massively improved when she fought Virna Jandiroba in late 2020 and took a unanimous decision – despite reportedly breaking her nose.

According to a post-fight report, it was Parillo’s reassurance between rounds that allowed Dern to fight through her injury and come away with the victory.

Naturally, with her stellar grappling background, Dern probably doesn’t need a top-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach to succeed in the UFC. But by hooking up with Parillo, she’s definitely given herself the best chance of improving her skills in other areas.


Simply put, Parillo knows exactly what it takes to help a fighter climb all the way into UFC title contention. And if he can help Dern develop her stand-up skills, in particular, then she’ll be very dangerous indeed.

From what we’ve see of Parillo-trained fighters in the UFC before, there’s no reason to doubt that he can succeed with Dern. And that definitely makes her a huge threat to the UFC Strawweight title.

Published 08 Apr 2021, 01:27 IST
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