Marina Rodriguez’s Turn

Photo: Chris Unger (CBS)

A reality in the fight game is that promoters have an interest in certain fighters progressing and moving up the ranks. The reasoning for this is usually based on the fact that certain athletes are considered very marketable. Whether it is because of their story, their looks, their character, or an amalgamation of all of those qualities. It’s these features that lend themselves to becoming a star, thus giving the promotion an opportunity to draw in a wider audience. 

Mackenzie Dern is a prime example of a fighter the UFC wanted to get behind. She rightfully earned her position to be on the radar for such treatment based on being one of the best female Ju-Jitsu practitioners on the planet. But aside from the skills, she has what the UFC deems to be very valuable. She’s got a great personality, looks, attitude, and a father who is a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu legend making for a great story. A prime candidate for an investment that should yield good returns should all the dominoes fall.

You can tell when a fighter is being favored by the promotion based on the coverage they get compared to the coverage their opponent receives. Whether it be social media, the countdown shows, embedded or any other medium. For the UFC Vegas 39 main event, It was clear that it was Dern who was the promotion’s sweetheart. 

But the arrangement of the bells and whistles can only do so much in this game, mixed martial arts is one of the last places on earth with a true meritocracy. Every now and then a lesser-known, more skilled fighter comes on the scene and knocks the promotion’s favorite off the pedestal, taking the shine for themselves. 

On Saturday night, Marina Rodriguez returned to the strawweight division and did just that. Beating Dern in an entertaining affair, taking that spotlight for herself, and landing on the path to bigger things in the process.

Soon as the two women took to the center of the octagon, all you had to do was take one look and it was clear who the more skilled striker was, based on body language alone. Rodriguez had her chin buried into her chest and was moving laterally and linearly with ease and composure. She was a perfect distance away on all shots, catching Dern on the very end of her well-placed punches and kicks.

While Dern has most certainly made improvements with her striking, especially with her defense. She looked far from sharp on her feet.  Lunging forward with punches with her chin in the air and from way too far away to hit the target. The bum-rushing tactic was intended to get to the clinch and has worked well on the competition of her past, but it wasn’t going to work on a striker as technically sound as Rodriguez.

Dern threw plenty but landed very little. Being out of range and not having a good grasp on distance made for a predictable target for Rodriguez. In some of the exchanges Dern had her eyes closed looking at the floor, all while Rodriguez was looking at an opponent who couldn’t see her. Allowing her to hit 3 and 4 point combinations without the threat of retaliation. 

Women’s MMA has evolved and gotten so much better as time has went on. Being a purist will only take you so far these days. However, the fight did hit the ground at one point, and when it did, it was Dern’s world. Say what you will about her abilities on the feet, but Dern’s Ju-Jitsu prowess is something to behold. 

Attacking from awkward positions, she was a threat in every situation. She also hits hard from the top position, was attempting armbars with her legs, and transitioning to each opportunity that presented itself fluidly. Throughout the fight she proved her ability to take damage and to keep trudging forward, the woman has heart.

But the round that Dern dominated only ended up serving as a display of Rodriquez’s ability to overcome adversity. She got dominated, survived, came back, and sharpened up to put it on her opponent in impressive fashion. After the second round scare, Rodriquez made sure that the fight didn’t hit the mat again. As the fight entered the championship rounds she thwarted all takedown attempts, staying on the outside and cracking Dern with combinations moving both forwards and going backward.  She did beautiful fakes and feints with the lead hand to set up a stinging right hand, making Dern look like a fish out of water.

Rodriguez showed she has the striking skill set to take on Joanna Jedrzejczyk or Rose Namajunas. UFC Vegas 39 was her coming out party, announcing to the world that there is another dangerous fighter among the elite at strawweight. Poised to put on outstanding performances against the best the division has to offer.

Are you ready to make your fight picks? Head over to fanduel and enter the fight night contest for this weekend!




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