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UFC Vegas 61: Dern vs. Yan preview - Main event strawweight showcase

Get the dirt on the main card of UFC Vegas 61, as Mackenzie Dern looks to make Chinese representative Xiaonan Yan tap, take a nap, or make something snap.

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Mackenzie Dern celebrating her win over Tecia Torres at UFC 273
Mackenzie Dern celebrating her win over Tecia Torres at UFC 273
Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

If I may, I’d like to point out a mighty curious bit of information. I don’t want to be ripping on the main event of Mackenzie Dern and Xiaonan Yan. It’s a contest I’m more than happy to watch play out over the course of five rounds. But why in the world are they getting a five-round fight and Marina Rodriguez is being relegated to a co-main event on a Fight Night card? After all, Rodriguez’s last two fights were victories over Dern and Yan respectively. Just a friendly reminder the UFC is still more spectacle than sport. Just sayin’....

For the UFC Vegas 61 prelims preview, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Mackenzie Dern vs. Xiaonan Yan, Women’s Strawweight

When it comes down to it, I understand the UFC’s push of Dern. She’s a powerful athlete with the most dangerous ground game in the division. I understand the UFC’s desire to push Yan too. China is a huge market after all. There’s a reason Hollywood has catered to the Chinese market. Money talks. I may not like the volume in which money talks, but I get it.

Now that I’ve got my gripe out of the way, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty of what should be an absolutely fantastic fight. All the money appears to be going on Dern. It wasn’t hyperbole when I said Dern has the most dangerous ground game in the division. The daughter of a famed BJJ practitioner, Dern began practicing the art of BJJ at an extremely tender age. At this point, there may not be anyone else on the roster who is more comfortable operating on the mat, much less in the division. She flows like someone who has made the ground a second home. Plus, she knows how to adjust her submissions without losing control. Many believe all it will take is for the fight to hit the mat just once and that’s all Dern will need to secure the win.

Given Carla Esparza was able to take Yan down at will has many convinced it will happen at some point. However, many people tend to forget Esparza is a fantastic wrestler. Yes, she has had issues opponents who don’t allow her to close the distance, but Esparza is a beast to deal with once she gets her mitts on her opponent. Dern’s lack of wrestling has long been lamented as well as it limits her path to glory more than anything. What good is her ground game if she can’t get the fight to the mat? Plus, Yan has acknowledged her takedown defense as a hole and has worked hard to address that. She’s been training at Team Alpha Male. She did show improved takedowns against Rodriguez, but the question will still be whether she can stop the takedowns. Rodriguez never tested her in that field.

If Dern can’t find a way to get the fight to the mat, Yan is the far superior striker. Yes, Dern has more natural power, but she also tends to load up on her punches and is easy to counter. Throw in the fact that Yan put on a much more thoughtful performance against Rodriguez, not rushing to meet her opponent in the pocket. Not that Yan wouldn’t get the better of the exchanges in the pocket with her combination striking, but it would make it far more difficult for Dern to either grab ahold of her or allow Dern to land a haymaker. It’s hard for anyone to forget Dern’s first loss coming almost solely at the hands of Amanda Ribas’ jab.

There’s two main factors that really swayed my pick in the end. First, Dern has proven to be durable, tough, and determined. She’ll take a beating and keep on coming. If there was a positive to take out of her loss to Ribas, it was that she never stopped trying to win the fight. Not that anyone believes Yan is a threat to end the fight – she has yet to secure a finish in the UFC despite six wins – but that means Dern will have five rounds to find the finish... and she’ll use every minute of the fight attempting to do that. Secondly, Dern is still improving. It’s not like she has decided to rest on her laurels as a grappler. She knows she needs to get the fight to the mat and has been working to improve her ability to get the fight to the ground, not to mention her striking. Dern may have had a lifetime of grappling under her belt, but she’s only been a professional MMA fighter for six years. In contrast, Yan has been fighting for 13 years. Not that Yan can’t improve some, but it’s more likely Dern will be making greater strides at this time. Her doggedness will eventually find her a submission. Dern via submission of RD3

Randy Brown vs. Francisco Trinaldo, Welterweight

Casual fans might be able to recall having heard Trinaldo’s name somewhere in the recesses of their minds, but he’s never been someone the UFC has gone out of their way to push. To be fair to the organization, it makes sense. After all, Trinaldo was already 33 when he made his UFC debut, so it didn’t seem like he was going to end up having an extended run of success. Instead, here we now sit, Trinaldo having just celebrated his 44th birthday, with an 18-7 record in the UFC. It’s not like success only came early in his run either; Trinaldo has won five of his past six fights.

Make no mistake, Trinaldo has been showing signs of age. He’s not quite as quick as he used to be, nor is his gas tank quite as deep. His stamina he has helped to compensate for with a late career move up to the welterweight division, but the reasons for his sustained success beyond that have come from his cunningness acquired over his many years of experience. Always a gifted counter striker, his timing has never been better. Traditionally, he isn’t considered to be a clean technical striker, but Trinaldo knows how to make his unorthodox style work to his benefit. That he’s been able to maintain his power hasn’t hurt either.

Then again, the UFC has been alert to Trinaldo’s age and given him incremental steps up in competition as he has continued to win. The consensus is Brown is easily the most talented fighter Trinaldo has faced in several years. It isn’t just that Brown is a tremendous athlete. Brown is also much taller and longer than the veteran Brazilian. Not that Trinaldo hasn’t overcome longer opponents before – it was just last year he beat Dwight Grant – but Brown isn’t just going to sit back and wait for Trinaldo to make his move.

Brown is primarily a boxer, but he offers enough of a varied attack that it would be silly to consider him one-dimensional. Perhaps that could have been said early in his career, but Brown has sharpened his skills at all levels. Though his preference is to stay on the outside and pick apart his opponents, he is completely capable of smothering his opponents against cage and working away in the clinch. It used to be Brown would nail takedowns merely for a change of pace. Now, he’s proven he can snatch a submission if he’s given the opportunity. Brown has steadily evolved from a talented striker reluctant to let loose into a confident veteran comfortable in all areas.

There are a couple of things that has many reluctant to slam their ticket for Brown. First, Trinaldo is exceptionally durable; he has never been finished due to strikes in a career that stretches back to 2006. The same can’t be said of Brown. In fact, Trinaldo has shown the kind of one-punch power that Brown has been vulnerable to. Second, Brown has exhibited some questionable decision making at times. Trinaldo has typically been able to capitalize on those types of mistakes....

The concerns about Brown are valid... to an extent. Trinaldo is as crafty as they come, but he’s also prone to a fast pace, something Brown is sure to do, provided he isn’t mesmerized by Trinaldo. Plus, Brown has made fewer mental errors in recent fights. And at 44, Trinaldo is prone to falling off a cliff at any moment. Chins don’t last forever either. Remember how long we all talked about Dan Henderson’s chin? It was finally cracked at 43. Just saying.... Brown via TKO of RD3

  • Are we witnessing the decline of Raoni Barcelos, or did he simply bump up against his ceiling sooner than most expected? Given Barcelos is now 35 in one of the divisions that has historically suffered the ills of aging sooner than most others, the former appears to be the most logical choice. Many analysts have lamented Barcelos getting his opportunity in the UFC later than hoped for, but he has also turned in several impressive performances. Even though he has proven himself to be a credible threat on the feet, it’s his wrestling and grappling that is feared the most. What has been limiting Barcelos as of late is his spotty gas tank. That hasn’t been an issue for Trevin Jones, but that hardly means Jones doesn’t have his own problems. Jones has plenty of athleticism in addition to having developed his power in recent years. Given he’s scored a couple of brutal KO’s, people forget that BJJ is his base. However, he struggles to put everything together on a consistent basis, not always showing the ability to effectively transition in each of the phases of MMA. Basically, the pieces are there; it’s just putting them all together on the regular. If Barcelos’ decline is steeper than expected, Jones could secure an easy win. However, expect Barcelos’ consistency to shine, especially early. Barcelos via TKO of RD2
  • I can’t blame Sodiq Yusuff for wanting to get into the cage after Giga Chikadze pulled out after it was nigh time for Yusuff and Chikadze to do the damn thing. After all, fighting is how he makes a living and he doesn’t make any money if he doesn’t fight. However, his fight with Don Shainis is all risk, no reward. Not that Shainis, a newcomer, isn’t worth taking a look at for the UFC brass, but Yusuff should be fighting top ten opposition as opposed to short notice opponents who appear to have a limited upside. Shainis is a wrestler at heart who has developed a functional power punching game to allow him to finish fighters beyond just pounding them out on the mat. However, even though he’s been fighting some at lightweight, he’s still on the small side for the featherweight division. Plus, while Yusuff still has some holes in his wrestling, he’s one of the better athletes in the division and has turned away takedown attempts from more proven fighters than Shainis. Plus, Yusuff will have a BIG advantage in the striking department. In my opinion, the best Shainis can hope for is a debut similar to Lando Vannata... but I don’t see that happening. Yusuff via TKO of RD2
  • While the overall vibe around Daniel Santos was a mixed bag for his debut, even some of his harsher critics were disappointed in his performance against Julio Arce. Don’t get me wrong, Arce is a solid UFC talent in whom there is no shame in losing to, but Santos showed nary a sign of the controlled chaos that he displayed on the regional scene. Hell, Arce didn’t even need to resort to his wrestling and that’s considered to be Santos’ biggest weakness. Regardless, if Santos has his head on straight, he could prove to be a difference maker. After all, John Casteneda had similarly mixed opinions about him prior to coming up short in his own UFC debut. In the two fights since, Casteneda has flexed his well-rounded skillset, scoring both a KO and a submission stoppage. He isn’t the cleanest fighter, nor is he a top athlete, but neither of those categories are a weakness either. It’s with his savviness that Casteneda makes up the ground on his opponents. Thus, while I’d say Santos is the superior athlete – and probably more creative striker – I prefer the Sexi Mexi to get the job done. Casteneda via decision
  • If he could fight more than once a year – a rate he isn’t even currently matching – Mike Davis could potentially prove himself to be one of the premier action fighters in the entirety of the sport of MMA. A plus athlete with above average boxing and wrestling that needs to be respected, Davis has made a hell of an impression in the three fights he’s been able to show up for. If he wants to play things safe – no guarantee given his penchant for slugfests – he’ll want to pull out his wrestling as former professional kickboxer Viacheslav Borshchev has yet to catch up on that end of things. That said, Borshchev is a sniper on the feet and a powerful one at that. Borshchev doesn’t throw at the same clip as Davis, but his tight technique and power make him something even the best lightweights in the world would be reluctant to freely trade with. Given all fighters have a degree of ego, I can see Davis being willing to test out what Borshchev can do... at least for a while. Davis has proven to be durable, so the chances of him holding up long enough to make his wrestling a factor... and deliver him the victory that wouldn’t likely appear should the contest remain a standing affair. Davis via decision