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Mackenzie Dern predicts Zhang Weili retains title at UFC 261: ‘I think it’s gonna be hard to take her off the throne right now’

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Mackenzie Dern believes Rose Namajunas will be able to give Zhang Weili everything she can handle this Saturday, but it may not be enough to recapture the strawweight title.

The highly anticipated championship matchup between Weili and Namajunas will serve as the co-main event of UFC 261, which takes place in the sold out VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla.

Having recently jumped into the top-five, Dern has even more incentive to watch the 115-pound bout. And while she feels Namajunas has a skillset that could give Weili some problems, she is picking the champ to retain.

“Man, that’s a hard one,” Dern told MMA Fighting on What the Heck prior to her first-round submission win over Nina Nunes at UFC Vegas 23. “I think Zhang will win. I think it will be a really good fight. I know Rose has submissions and I haven’t seen Zhang do a lot jiu-jitsu wise.

“Me, watching her, I think to myself, if I ever fight her it would be a jiu-jitsu [heavy game plan]. I know Rose can get some flying armbars, flying triangles, I saw her working on her heel hooks and things like that. But the champ, she’s focused, too. She’s prepared for anyone, anytime. So I think it’s gonna be hard to take her off the throne right now.”

Prior to her win over Nunes, Dern believes she is ready to fight for the title right now, though her team would like to see her get another fight or two under her belt before that happens. Moving forward, Dern wants to stay active, and looking ahead toward big matchups that could hopefully get her there before the end of 2021.

“I definitely want to fight as many times as possible this year against [opponents] that will get me closer to the belt,” Dern said. “The champ is fighting Rose, Yan (Xiaonan) is fighting Carla Esparza, so there’s a lot of things that are gonna be moving around in the top-four, top-five in the next few weeks.

“I don’t know about Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), if she has a fight but we’ll see what happens.”