Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Strawweight prospects Mackenzie Dern and Amanda Cooper will face off this Saturday (May 12, 2018) at UFC 224 inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Expectations were high ahead of Dern’s Octagon debut, a bout that she won via split-decision in a performance that showed the up-and-comer still needed much development. She’s been matched appropriately by receiving a very slight step up in competition, but it’s genuinely a bit odd to see her so far up on the main card of a pay-per-view (PPV) all things considered. Meanwhile, Cooper made her name as a runner up on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), and she is a far better fighter than her record would imply. At the same time, she’s also very much a developing athlete with a weakness to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, making this a risky bout for her.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:
Key Wins: Ashley Yoder (UFC 222), Kaline Medeiros (Invicta FC 26)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Dern is an extremely decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu player, a gold medalist in both the Mundials and ADCC tournament. She’s proven to be quite dangerous on the mat in the cage as well, but the rest of her game so far amounts to a decent overhand and not-so-great takedown game.
Luckily, her game should be developing quickly at this stage of her career.
Depending on how she fights, this could be an easy submission or a hell of a fight for Dern. Cooper is the far better striker and is the more physical fighter as well, which means there’s a very real chance Dern could end up stranded on her feet with the boxer. To avoid that fate, Dern needs to be aggressive from the start of the bout. Cooper can box, but is not really a knockout artist, so there are only benefits to backing her up. Against the fence, Dern stands a fair chance at landing a takedown.
If conventional takedowns fail, Dern has to improvise. Shooting into a trip takedown stands a fair chance at catching Cooper off guard, and worst comes to worst, Dern would be better off pulling guard than choosing to strike with Cooper.
Key Wins: Angela Magana (UFC 216), Anna Elmose (UFC Fight Night 99)
Key Losses: Tatiana Suarez (TUF 23 Finale), Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 209)
Keys to Victory: At just 26 years old and six bouts into her professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career, it’s not hard to see the reason Cooper has struggled to score consistent success inside the Octagon. At the same time, Cooper is growing quickly and has some clear athletic gifts, so the potential for her to grow into a contender is definitely there.
This is a striker vs. grappler match up, and all the classic strategies that strikers should follow apply here: use the jab, use linear kicks, circle often, don’t over-commit, don’t back into the fence... you get the idea. Cooper has to remain balanced and technical or risk giving up a takedown.
In Cooper’s case, there’s is another specific instruction. She has a bad habit of willingly engaging on the mat with talented grapplers when she’d be far better off disengaging. If she willing takes top position opposite Dern, she’s far more likely to get swept or submitted than land any significant strikes.
Bottom Line: Both Dern and Cooper are definitely fighters to watch for in the future, just not really right now.
Dern has the grappling background to become a major player in the division, but she doesn’t yet have the wrestling and striking skill necessary to display it. That will come with time, so as long as expectations are reasonable, fights like this should really help with Dern’s growth.
Win or lose, she’s not ready for a high level of competition yet.
The situation is rather similar for Cooper, as both women show promise despite their inexperience. Public view of Cooper is also a bit harsh — she has three submission losses, true, but they all come against top-tier ground fighters. Dern is no exception, so this bout serves as a chance for Cooper to prove she’s finally ready to overcome that type of fighter.
At UFC 224, Mackenzie Dern and Amanda Cooper will meet on the main card. Which athlete will earn the victory?