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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 73’s Angela Hill and Mackenzie Dern

UFC Fight Night: Dern v Yan Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Veteran kickboxer, Angela Hill, and submission ace, Mackenzie Dern, will throw down this Saturday (May 20, 2023) at UFC Vegas 73 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Hill has fought a “Who’s Who” of the women’s Strawweight division. The problem, however, is that she’s lost more often than not, even if some of those decisions could’ve gone either way. Still, “Overkill” is riding her first win streak since 2020, turning away a pair of talented up-and-comers to get back in the mix. Dern, meanwhile, has lost two of her last three to a pair of top contenders. The division’s best submission artist remains a work in progress regarding her kickboxing and wrestling, but she’s certainly developing in the right direction and has time to become a real title threat.

Let’s take a closer look at the skills of each athlete:

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 74 On ESPN+

HIGH STAKES FLYWEIGHT MATCHUP! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns home to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., June 3, 2023, with No. 3-seeded contender, Kai Kara-France, face rising No. 7-ranked Amir Albazi. In UFC Vegas 74’s ESPN+-streamed co-main event, an exciting Featherweight bout sees No. 15-ranked contender, Alex Caceres, lock horns with all-action Daniel Pineda.

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A former professional kickboxer, Hill’s striking style in mixed martial arts (MMA) very much reflects her time training with the Alliance MMA team.

As with many of her teammates at Alliance — most notably, Dominick Cruz — false starts are a huge portion of Hill’s offense. Light on her feet from the outside, Hill is frequently testing her opponent’s reactions by acting as if she’s going to come forward with a combination. The exact movement can differ a bit, but typically, Hill will lower her level, lean over the lead knee a bit, then pull back.

This false start creates a lot of counter opportunities for Hill. If she’s able to trick her opponent into swinging at air, Hill can often follow up with a combination. In particular, Hill does a nice job of answering with several punches and a kick of some kind, which improves her odds of landing something and staying ahead on the volume game.

Historically, one of the problems with false starting often is that it can leave the fighter’s lead leg exposed mid-feint. Hill has definitely eaten her share of low kicks over the years, but she also does nice work in reading the kick, staying squatted low, and firing her right hand as a counter.

The .GIF below isn’t a low kick, but it’s the same concept.

Of course, one cannot solely feint offense without actually initiating some of the time. Mixed among the false starts is actually offense, which much of the time comes in the form of an overhand. Hill throws the strike without fully committing her weight straight forward. As a result, it may be a touch less powerful — though still heavy enough to drop Claudia Gadelha! (.GIF) — but Hill is more easily able to duck her head off the center line as she secures an angle.

In addition to ducking her head inside with an overhand, Hill will also drop her head to the outside and stick out a stiff jab, which can intercept her opponent’s forward movement. As she shifts her head between inside and outside position, Hill will also jump into a left hook. Between the head-off-line/angular jab, hook, and overhand, Hill can build good combinations, often by finishing with kicks.

Another strength of “Overkill” is her elbow game. On the outside, Hill will look to intercept with elbows, hiding behind her shoulder and presenting her opponent a sharp point to run into. If the distance is too tight for an overhand or left hook, Hill will instead bounce into an elbow.

In addition, Hill’s clinch game is really quite good. She fights for head position really well, which helps ensure she is the one delivering hard knees and elbows (.GIF). Most notably, her right elbow on the break is an excellent weapon. In her bout with Loma Lookboonmee, Hill really proved her clinch skill by going toe-to-toe with the Muay Thai champion and arguably landing the better shots in close (.GIF).

Dern’s striking game is far more simple. Initially, it was reliant almost entirely on a powerful overhand. Since then, she’s developed her straight punches a bit more, notably jabbing well against fellow grappler Virna Jandiroba. Her kicking form has improved too, but the issue of throwing naked kicks and getting countered remains.

In general, Dern’s footwork isn’t great. She’s usually looking to close distance and wrestle, but Dern continues to follow her opponents rather than effectively cut off the cage.


Dern’s wrestling is thoroughly decent at this point. She has a couple favorite techniques/strategies, commonly attacking the high-crotch position and upper body clinch. From the latter, Dern looks to hook the inside thigh and block the leg while pulling her opponent over her hip.

More often, Dern shoots to the high-crotch position. If she can wrap up both legs, Dern will look to run through a double. It’s not the greatest blast double in the world, but if she times it well, Dern can put her opponent on the canvas (GIF).

More often, Dern attacks just one leg and looks to run the pipe. This is where things get a little dicey. Sometimes, she’s able to dump her opponent. Just as often, Dern loses connection between her shoulder and her opponent’s hip, which makes it fairly easy for her foe to resist, reverse, or simply limp leg away.

For a woman who’s lost several fights because of wrestling, Hill’s takedown defense is pretty good! Her head position and framing in the clinch are rather strong, meaning muscling one’s way into the double leg along the fence is not going to be an easy task. Hill’s in-and-out movement can be a double-edged sword, as it can draw out bad shots, but if an opponent does time her step forward, it’s likely a solid entry on the shot.

If there’s one wrestling trend I’ve noticed in Hill’s fights, it’s that she’s vulnerable to trips. That may simply be an end result of fighting at Strawweight, where many women attempt shots with trips added in, or it could be a balance/positioning problem. Either way, Hill tends to hit the mat when her legs get entangled.

Offensively, Hill occasionally looks for takedowns in the clinch, using both trips and body locks.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Spoiler: this section is going to be entirely Mackenzie Dern, who’s one of the most accomplished grapplers in MMA regardless of gender.

As mentioned above, Dern’s wrestling is still just okay. However, she’s grown more accustomed to using her jiu-jitsu to force her opponents to the ground in a non-wrestling manner. Against Tecia Torres, for example, a guard pull has never looked so dangerous.

When Dern jumped guard against Torres, “Tiny Tornado” opted to remain standing and let Dern wear her own legs out — not a bad strategy generally! However, Dern was able to chain together submission attempts while suspended in air. She began crawling her legs high to start, looking to pass by a shoulder and begin a triangle. When Torres postured up in response, Dern did a sit up and started fishing for the guillotine.

Torres kept strong posture to stop the guillotine, but Dern was able to instead thread her arm though and attack the kimura. Suddenly, Torres was in real danger, and it’s a testament to her strength and flexibility that her shoulder didn’t go. Instead, she fell to the ground, later fought off a kneebar, and wound up on bottom.

That’s certainly one way to gain top position!

Dern put on a world-class display of grappling against Nina Nunes. As soon as she completed the takedown into closed guard, Dern’s dominance on the mat was obvious. To pass, Dern utilized a pair of double threats. After opening Nunes’ guard, she first laced an arm around Nunes’ calf, clearly showing the threat of a leg lock. Meanwhile, she was standing over Nunes and applying pressure, using her other hand to press on the knee and pass into half guard.

Upon scoring half guard, Dern switched her hips and laid across the waist, clearly still threatening to attack the knee. Instead, she switched to a kimura. When Nunes reacted to the kimura threat, Dern dug an underhook and used it to pass directly into mount.

The passing was gorgeous jiu-jitsu, and Dern capped it off with a quick armbar. The setup was simple enough: punch and elbow Nunes hard enough to convince her that covering her face was necessary, than attack the exposed elbow. To break the grip, Dern used a combination of kicking at the far elbow and tugging against the wrist with added pressure on the inner shoulder (GIF).

Double threats also played a major role in Dern’s victory over Randa Markos. Markos bizarrely followed Dern to the mat following a slip on a kick, and Dern quickly demonstrated why that’s an awful idea. Immediately, she started inverting and hooking a leg — threatening leg locks — before throwing up her legs for the triangle when Markos pushed away and postured.

Dern used the triangle to sweep into top position soon afterward. From the three-quarters mount — which is just mount, but one ankle is barely trapped by the bottom athlete is some semblance of a half guard — Dern used her knee (the one with the ankle trapped) to pin one of Markos’ arms. From there, her other knee rose high up on Dern’s body, isolating the shoulder joint and scoring Dern a perpendicular angle to her opponent.

At this angle, Dern was able to step her foot in front of Markos’ face in similar position to a gogoplata. Instead, she fell back, attacked the arm, and bent it unpleasantly when Markos tried to tough it out (GIF).

One fight farther in the past, Dern submitted Hannah Cifers within about 30 seconds of the fight hitting the mat. From her back, Dern used the more recently popular position known as K-guard, swimming an arm underneath one of her opponent’s legs and inverting from the full guard. Dern used this position to transition into the kneebar, which knocked Cifers to her butt.

From there, the submission was locked in.


This is a really interesting style clash. On paper, it feels like Hill has the kickboxing and wrestling defense to stymie Dern and prevent her grappling from coming into play. However, Dern’s excellence on the mat and general opportunism really seems to guarantee that at some point, these two will hit the canvas.

Can Hill survive that exchange?

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 73 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 73: “Dern vs. Hill” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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