This Saturday’s UFC main event is a women’s strawweight bout between Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez. It’s an important clash for both fighters with Dern now closing in on a title shot after moving to #4 in the official rankings and Rodriguez also ranked #6 in the division.
Order UFC 281
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira is tonight! Watch every UFC 281 fight here.
- Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
- Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili
- Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
The fight card is set to commence at an earlier time of 1:30 pm with the main card starting at 4:00 pm ET and airing on ESPN+.
Read on for our Dern vs. Rodriguez betting odds and our staff predictions for this weekend’s main event.
Dern vs. Rodriguez betting odds
- Mackenzie Dern: -180
- Marina Rodriguez: +150
Dern vs. Rodriguez predictions
Marina Rodriguez and Mackenzie Dern each have particular strengths that play into each other’s weaknesses. In a general sense, although both dangerous everywhere and by all means have skills everywhere, Rodriguez is one of the best strikers in the strawweight division and Dern likely the best grappler.
Marina Rodriguez is a long-time Muay Thai practitioner and her style depends largely on that base. She has a hunched stance but keeps her head on the centerline, she doesn’t utilize a lot of head movement but doesn’t really need to because of her superb distance control. With a reach of 65 inches that dominates most of the division, Rodriguez is very good at clipping her opponents at the end of her shots. She mixes it up well between straights, wide hooks, teeps, and a solid right body kick, and moves forward constantly. With this pressure and heavy right hand, she often forces her opponents to circle to her left and into her left hook.
She will also commit very strongly to the thrust right straight when her opponent is against the cage because not only is it a devastating punch but she will happily catch herself in the clinch with a post and knee combination if the initial punch misses. However, with her constant forward pressure, she will often eat teep kicks coming in, which does not faze her, although, against Michelle Waterson, her habit of taking the teep and moving forward was exploited when Waterson switched to a stabbing sidekick, hurting Rodriguez when she walked into range.
On the ground is where she has had the most difficulty in her career, she is good at fighting the hands and taking damage to the minimum, but will at the same time accept her back against the mat. From guard she is good at constantly moving and making it a difficult fight but when we have seen her stuck in half guard she has less defensive skills and almost no offensive ones.
This is where Dern does her best work, as a grappler Dern’s ability to establish position before worrying about strikes or finishing transitions is important. Often you will do a half pass from inside her opponent’s full guard to half or half to mount. Against Nina Nunes, Dern tried to pass to mount but had her ankle trapped in quarter guard, so she planted her hips, got high on the chest, and made sure she was in perfect position before raining down punches and hammerfists in order to complete the full transition. If Dern can take Rodriguez down I do not think it will be very competitive.
However, the big question is how can Dern get it there? She has massively improved her striking game over her past couple bouts however still makes fundamental mistakes. Her biggest improvements have been her new ability to stay upright and feint as she moves in, as well as stay lighter on her feet, however, the danger in her striking is still limited primarily to her boxing and in particular, a looping overhand right that comes fast and hard but misses big when it does not connect.
I think the important thing for Dern is to realize she can’t get caught up in beating or even matching Rodriguez strike for strike. When it’s standing, she isn’t going to be winning on the cards, but the important thing is she gains respect, so she needs to pick her shot, set up the right hand, and land enough times for Rodriguez to react to Dern’s feints. If that happens, it will open up the takedown, because with Rodriguez’s skills in the clinch and with her reach, shooting blind is extremely dangerous.
However, because I think the skill gap is larger on the ground I am leaning Dern in this match up. While Rodriguez will likely have to pick apart Dern over time, if Dern can establish ground control early enough to work, the momentum of the fight will move very quickly.
Prediction: Mackenzie Dern to win by submission.
Dern has a sensational Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background and skillset. 7 of her 11 wins have come by submission. Whether through a takedown or pulling guard, she is adept at getting the fight to the mat. Regardless of how the fight gets to the canvas, once there, Dern has shown a special ability to find a limb and force her opponent to tap within seconds. On the feet, Dern is significantly improving. Similar to the men’s lightweight champion, Charles Oliveira, Dern was also once seen as an elite submission artist but her striking created a ceiling. Like the champ, Dern’s bread and butter is still her deadly ground game, her striking has improved enough to allow her to hang on the feet while she looks for a takedown. In fact, in her only fight during her win streak that didn’t end with a first-round submission, Dern out-landed her opponent on the feet and secured the win without a single takedown. Dern is young, talented, improving, and has a special skill set to find the submission finish on top or from guard.
Where Dern excels in grappling, wrestling, and BJJ, Rodriguez excels on the feet. Often the taller, longer, and larger woman in the cage, Rodriguez uses her size well to keep opponents at the end of her jab. Then, when they do close the gap, she has the accuracy and power to unleash a devastating combination. In a division that often results in decisions, Rodriguez hast 6 knockout wins. While throwing power punches sometimes causes fighters to gas out and push a slower pace, Rodriguez once again bucks the trend. She has a great gas tank and can continue to throw volume deep into the fight despite her volume often coming with more heat than her opponent’s. In her last fight, Rodriguez landed 144 of 304 total strikes; put simply, that is a lot. If the fight does go to the ground, Rodriguez is capable of getting back to her feet or at least surviving long enough for the round to end. She’s never been submitted in her professional career.
This fight really comes down to two key factors. First, is Dern’s striking improved enough to hang on the feet enough with Rodriguez? Second, can Dern get the fight to the mat? If both answers are yes, Dern should win her 5th fight in a row; but, if either is a no, then Rodriguez can pick Dern apart for 5 rounds. Rodriguez has a respectable 62% takedown defense; but, a large part of that stat is Rodriguez relying on size. Against someone of similar size or a dedicated wrestler, Rodriguez can go down. We saw it against Esparza and Calvillo. Dern should be able to hang on the feet long enough to get in the clinch, drag Rodriguez down, and find a limb. From there, it is only a matter of time before Rodriguez taps. Dern wins, wins impressively, and continues up the rankings.
Prediction: Mackenzie Dern by submission
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.