Mackenzie Dern’s third show-closing opportunity could be the beginning of a run up the rankings or the beginning of the end of her championship aspirations.
We probably shouldn’t put too much weight on the UFC Vegas 73 main event — which wasn’t even a main event seven days ago when it was originally scheduled for UFC Vegas 72 — but it’s fair to say that Dern losing three out of four fights and going 0-3 in headlining bouts will put a major dent in her contender reputation. She’s currently No. 9 at strawweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings.
Angela Hill (No. 13) is just the woman to make that dent too. The most active strawweight in UFC history has fought a number of notable names at 115 pounds and has rarely been an easy out, regardless of her opponent’s specialty. If she can keep the fight on the fight, “Overkill” will be licking her chops at the prospect of picking Dern apart for 25 minutes. And who knows, she may even make her own title challenger statement.
In other main card action, Edmen Shahbazyan looks to build momentum in the middleweight division when he faces Anthony Hernandez, Emily Ducote meets short-notice replacement Loopy Godinez in a 120-pound catchweight bout, Andre Fialho welcomes Joaquin Buckley to the welterweight division, and lightweight veterans Diego Ferreira and Michael Johnson square off.
What: UFC Vegas 73
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, May 20. The seven-fight preliminary card begins at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN+, followed by a five-fight main card at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Angela Hill
Five rounds could actually be to Mackenzie Dern’s benefit here.
As I mentioned above, it’s entirely possible (one might argue, likely) that Dern cannot get Angela Hill to the ground, which would force her into an arduous striking battle she is not equipped to win. Though Dern is certainly leagues better on the feet than she was when she made her UFC debut four years ago, the striking of Hill is way too advanced for her. Dern would end up hoping for a lucky punch that won’t come.
So I’m picking Dern because I’m confident that she can get Hill to the ground and she can control her there and she can find a submission. That’s a big assumption given that Hill has shored up her takedown defense considerably, but Dern’s athletic gifts have made up for what she lacks in offensive wrestling. It won’t be easy, but she’ll eventually power Hill down to the mat.
Another assumption one has to make when picking Dern is that she’ll start utilizing more ground strikes when she’s in dominant positions, an avenue of her game that has been lacking and likely cost her a win against Yan Xiaonan. She has to do more than control Hill if she wants to open her up for a submission.
Give me Dern brute-forcing her way through some hard strikes to get the fight to the ground and tapping Hill with a limb lock in the second or third round.
Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Anthony Hernandez
I’m going with the grappler again in this matchup.
Good on Edmen Shahbazyan to score a much-needed win this past December, making the most of a striking matchup with Dalcha Lungiambula to snap a three-year losing stretch. It’s important to point out though that that feat didn’t answer any questions about Shahbazyan’s biggest weakness: his grappling defense. That just so happens to play to Anthony Hernandez’s strength.
What works in Shahbazyan’s favor is that Hernandez is a high-pressure fighter, which could leave him open to a counter if Shahbazyan effectively manages the distance. Hernandez just attacks, attacks, and attacks, so if Shahbazyan can weather the storm, he could turn the tables in between advances. As much as Shahbazyan has struggled at times, there’s no questioning that he’s a powerful striker and fight finisher.
I just don’t see how Shahbazyan stays upright long enough to land that telling blow though. Hernandez will take the fight to him and not let up until he has Shahbazyan on his back. Then Hernandez will pour it on for a ground-and-pound TKO.
Emily Ducote vs. Loopy Godinez
First things first, we can toss Loopy Godinez coming in on short notice out of the discussion because for Gordinez, that’s normal notice. She is ready to rock just two months after a tough win over Cynthia Calvillo.
With less time to prepare, I expect Godinez to come forward right out of the gate. That spells trouble for Emily Ducote, who has shown flashes of finishing power on the feet, but doesn’t do as well when she’s on the back foot. Ducote should look to counter and frustrate Godinez. That’s easier said than done as Godinez does an excellent job of darting in and out as she strikes.
Should this turn into a grappling match, we could be in for a chess match as Godinez will likely be the one to score the takedown leaving Ducote to fight off of her back. Ducote has excellent jiu-jitsu, but maybe not enough to stifle Godinez’s top game.
I’m a believer in Godinez’s aggressive style and though it might not serve her well in every matchup, I think it’s too much for Ducote to deal with. Godinez by decision.
Andre Fialho vs. Joaquin Buckley
This matchup is guaranteed to manufacture a spectacular knockout. But which fighter will be adding to their highlight reel.
My money’s on Joaquin Buckley. A move back down to welterweight has been overdue for “New Mansa.” He was competitive at 185, but you can only give up size for so long at the UFC level. At 170, he’ll still have a speed advantage over much of the opposition and have less of an issue closing the distance to show off his explosive strikes.
Andre Fialho was a nice story in 2022 as he made five UFC appearances and scored a pair of Performance of the Night bonuses in his two wins. However, he still only went 2-3 last year, and his fighting style isn’t as effective when his opponent knows how to avoid being swarmed. He might want to take the fight to Buckley, but after a couple of hard counters and flashy kicks, Fialho may want to take a more measured approach.
He won’t be able to help himself though and eventually Fialho will march forward looking for a fight-ending combination, only to end up staring at the lights when Buckley hits him with something out of nowhere.
Diego Ferreira vs. Michael Johnson
On paper, I know Diego Ferreira probably has the edge on Michael Johnson skill for skill. Somehow, I just can’t reconcile that with Ferreira’s poor run of form.
There’s no shame at all in losing to Mateusz Gamrot, Gregor Gillespie, and Beniel Dariush, so Ferreira shouldn’t be counted out just because of that. But he’s 38 now, with a growing list of injuries including a rib issue that has kept him out of action for the past 500-plus days, and the clock is loudly ticking. How much does the formerly ranked fighter have left?
The same question could be asked of Johnson, just a couple of years younger than Ferreira, but his recent wins (and a split decision loss to Mullarkey that easily could have gone the other way) indicate that he’s figured something out. He’s always had great hands, a strong wrestling base, and sharp in-cage I.Q., it just doesn’t always come together for him. I feel like it’s coming together.
Ferreira will win this one if it ends up on the ground, but Johnson has the movement and defense to avoid that scenario. After a feeling-out process in the first round, it’s Johnson who will turn up the intensity in Round 2 and put Ferreira away with strikes.
Viacheslav Borshchev def. Maheshate
Karolina Kowalkiewicz def. Vanessa Demopoulos
Orion Cosce def. Gilbert Urbina
Ilir Latifi def. Rodrigo Nascimento
Chase Hooper def. Nick Fiore
Natalia Silva def. Victoria Leonardo