The second of five consecutive events featuring at least one Brazilian in the main event touches down at the UFC APEX this weekend, as flyweight contenders Mackenzie Dern and Marina Rodriguez square off in a pivotal battle in the 115-pound weight class just a few weeks ahead of Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili running it back at UFC 268 in New York City.
After a few “supersized” fight cards with 13 or 14 bouts, Saturday’s offering is a tight 11-fight lineup with a bunch of sneaky good pairings that will answer lingering questions about a number of talented fighters currently angling to set a course for themselves as we head towards 2022.
Included in that cast of characters are three emerging competitors looking to take a big step forward in their respective divisions as they enter the Octagon this weekend.
Here’s a closer look at those athletes.
This is the October 9 edition of Fighters on the Rise.
Despite this being her second straight main event assignment and third high-profile pairing of 2021, Rodriguez remains a bit of an unheralded talent in the 115-pound ranks; the “odd woman out” when conversations shift to the top contenders in the strawweight division.
But make no mistake about it: the 34-year-old Brazilian is very much in the mix, entering Saturday’s clash with Dern with a stellar 14-1-2 record including a 4-1-2 record through her first seven UFC appearances, with her lone loss coming by split decision in an ultra-competitive battle against former champion Carla Esparza.
This year, the Muay Thai stylist has posted a pair of impressive victories through her first two starts, stopping surging prospect Amanda Ribas less than a minute into the second round of their clash at UFC 257 in January before out-hustling Michelle Waterson over five rounds in a one-off venture up to flyweight in May. Now she returns for a second consecutive headlining assignment and a chance to upend a second rising star in this matchup with Dern.
Forecasted to be a future contender when she transitioned to MMA following an outstanding Brazilian jiu jitsu career, the 28-year-old Dern has largely validated the hype, carrying an 11-1 record into Saturday contest. Since suffering the lone defeat of her career — a unanimous decision loss to Ribas two years ago — she’s rattled off four straight victories, earning first-round submission finishes in three of them, including her most recent outing against Nina Nunes in April.
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This is the most high-profile pairing of Rodriguez’s career to date, and a chance for the Marcio Malko student to step out from the shadows and cement her standing as a legitimate force in the 115-pound weight class.
Randy Brown has now had more than twice as many fights in the UFC as he did prior to joining the roster at the end of 2015, and after an up-and-down run to begin his time in the welterweight ranks, “Rudeboy” is starting to really make some noise.
Brown enters Saturday’s meeting with Jared Gooden having gone 3-1 in his last four fights, the lone setback coming opposite title contender Vicente Luque. Last time out, he needed a little under three minutes to submit Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira, tapping the Brazilian veteran with a one-arm rear-naked choke in April.
The Queens standout is one of those fighters whose struggles looked like the mark of inconsistency in the moment but look differently with a little time and perspective. Landing on the business end of a Belal Muhammad grind session sits differently in 2021 than it did immediately following UFC 208 and getting stopped by Niko Price the following summer is more testament to the ingenuity and creativeness of “The Hybrid” than a mark against Brown; the same goes for his loss to Luque last summer.
Additionally, the victory over Oliveira continues to highlight the growth and development Brown has shown over the last several years, as he’s worked to better deploy his considerable weapons and make use of his tremendous height and reach. He’s shown outstanding finishing instincts and if he can collect a second straight win this weekend, the former Lookin’ for a Fight graduate will establish himself as a key person of interest in the 170-pound weight class heading into next year.
Phil Hawes has already had a pretty solid last 12 months from a professional standpoint, and one additional month could make it even better as he steps in with Deron Winn on Saturday.
The 32-year-old Sanford MMA representative literally punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round stoppage win over Khadzi Bestaev on September 9, 2020, and followed it up with an 18-second finish of Jacob Malkoun in his promotional debut a month later. Already this year, Hawes has collected a majority decision win over Nassourdine Imavov, who earned a second-round stoppage win over Ian Heinisch in his very next fight, and then swept the scorecards in a clash with Kyle Daukaus in May to give him four victories in eight months.
Saturday night, Dawes can make it five wins in 13 months and four straight in the UFC as he squares off with Deron Winn in an intriguing middleweight pairing that was originally scheduled to take place in July, but was pushed back after Winn suffered an injury. Both men come from wrestling backgrounds and excellent camps, with Winn looking to build some momentum after snapping a two-fight skid last December.
Hawes was tabbed for greatness when he first broke into the sport and was training at Jackson-Wink MMA, but like innumerable fighters, he initially struggled against quality competition, losing to Andrew Sanchez in the elimination round on TUF 23, to veteran Louis Taylor under the WSOF shingle, and to Julian Marquez in his first appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series.
But since then, “Megatron” has been unstoppable and if he continues his winning ways this weekend, he’ll head into 2022 with the Top 15 in his sights and the talk about his championship potential beginning to simmer again.