In one of the most highly anticipated Octagon debuts in recent memory, Mackenzie Dern squeaked out a victory over Ashley Yoder at UFC 222 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Dern, 5-0 coming into the fight, is one of the most highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and grappling experts in the world and had rolled over many of her opponents as she was working her way to the UFC. That didn’t happen on Saturday night.
Yoder had lost her first two UFC bouts, but her experience made it difficult for Dern to find the stunning submission finish that she is known for.
Dern opened strong, throwing wild punches and pressing Yoder to the fence, but she couldn’t secure the takedown that everyone thought would be coming early in the fight. Yoder did a good job defending in the clinch, although Dern did a better job when they exchanged knees in the clinch.
Dern kept the same approach throughout the fight, constantly throwing a low kick and ducking her head to charge forward with wild punches, leading to her pressing Yoder against the cage, searching for the takedown.
As the fight wore on, Yoder did a better job of staying off of the fence and showed a much more crisp striking game than Dern, evening things out a bit as they hit the third round.
The tide shift a bit to Yoder’s favor as the fight wore on, and it looked like she might be able to at least eke out a decision as the clock wound down in round three, but Dern was relentless, lulling Yoder into trading strikes before finally scoring the takedown that it took her most of the fight to find.
Dern immediately took Yoder’s back and softened her up with a few punches before securing a rear-naked choke. It looked like she had the choke on tight, but Yoder was patient and eventually fought her way out of the hold. Dern kept trying, but couldn’t sink it again before time ran out.
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When the scorecards were revealed, two of the three judges awarded scores of 29-28 to Dern, while the third gave Yoder a 29-28 nod. Dern emerged victorious with a split-decision victory in her UFC debut, moving her professional record to 6-0.
“I’m so happy that I could be here finally,” Dern said after the fight. “Ashley is such a tough opponent. She’s a great fighter and I’m happy I could come off with a win.