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Mackenzie Dern makes her prediction for Rose Namajunas vs. Carla Esparza rematch

Dern sees Namajunas avenging her loss to Esparza and retaining her strawweight championship. 

Considering how much she has evolved as a fighter, Mackenzie Dern sees Rose Namajunas defeating Carla Esparza and avenging one of the first losses of her professional career.

More than seven years ago, Namajunas and Esparza fought at The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale. ‘Thug’ was submitted via third-round rear-naked choke by the ‘Cookie Monster’, who became the first-ever strawweight champion in UFC history. Fast forward to 2022 and now Namajunas has the championship, with Esparza still sitting near the top of the division and hoping to reclaim what she once held.

The key to victory for Esparza was her wrestling, which she has used to overwhelm her opponents on the ground. It would come as no surprise to see that in play again in her upcoming rematch with Namajunas, but Dern has seen a much-improved ground game from the champion since the first fight. And because of those improvements, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace told Farah Hannoun of MMA Junkie that she expects to hear ‘and still’ at UFC 274 in May.

“I think Rose is going to win just because I think she’s evolved so much in all different areas,” said Dern. “Her ground, her takedowns — I mean just with her fight with Zhang Weili, they were taking each other down. So to see Rose getting the takedowns in that fight and stuff like that was really entertaining. Her striking, she’s precise. Her striking is just looking so good.”

Though she chose Namajunas over Esparza, Dern also explained that an upset is not far-fetched. Stylistically, Esparza can pose a threat to just about anyone. However, Dern remains confident in Namajunas to avoid any potential fight-ending scenarios like the one she fell to.

“I think Rose is going to get the win, but I won’t be surprised if Carla gets an upset or something like that,” said Dern. “Carla has just gotten so good at implementing her game and it’s like, who’s going to win? The person that’s kind of more all-around, or the person that’s Khabib-style that knows their game and can implement it and just put on that pressure no matter who she fights? That’s what I think Carla really brings to the table. She’s just good and no matter who she fights, she’s able to put her game on. I’m not like that.

“I know everyone says, ‘Take it to the ground, take it to the ground,’ and then all of a sudden when I see I’m two rounds in and I’m striking, and I’m liking the striking, but obviously my striking is not exactly where I am with other girls. So the fact that Carla has that experience and that maturity as a fighter to put her game with whoever, I think that’s dangerous. But I don’t see Rose giving up her neck or back like she did the first time. I don’t see them falling into the same type of fight as the last time they fought.”

As for Dern, she returns to the Octagon against Tecia Torres at UFC 273 on April 9 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.