Off the back of her stunning armbar success against Nina Nunes at UFC Vegas 23 last weekend, Mackenzie Dern catapulted herself into title contention at strawweight. The victory marked the Arizona native’s fourth consecutively, and ahead of UFC 261 on April 24. — she predicted defending champion, Zhang Weili will knock back challenger and former titleholder, Rose Namajunas to retain her crown. 

Upon the release of the official UFC rankings this week, Dern landed at #5 in the strawweight pile — priming herself for a potential title-eliminator in her next outing.

Following her victory over the returning Nunes at the UFC Apex facility event, speculation began to mount in regards to possible next opponents for the multiple-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion, with the likes of former champions, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Carla Esparza, as well as Yan Xiaonan all suggested as potential opponents for Dern. 

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Both before and after her matchup with Nunes, Dern had explained how she believes a strawweight title challenge could await her at the end of year, however, hoped to score one, if not two more outings prior to any sort of championship tilt.

I’m ready for the top girls, but maybe fight for the belt, maybe at the end of the year,” Dern said during a post-fight interview with ESPN MMA. “A couple more fights, because the belt you want to be one-hundred percent, and I’m not one-hundred percent on what I need to do.

I just need to be one-hundred percent on the go time, and that’s being able to be calm and to think. I’m getting there, but a first-round submission, you don’t really get to see those other parts. But I know that even if I submit my next (opponent) in the first round, I want to know that when I fight the champ, I’m ready even if I go the whole five rounds.

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Speaking recently with LowKick MMA reporter, James Lynch, Dern gave her thoughts on the upcoming UFC 261 co-headlining, title clash between Weili and Namajunas — predicting a successful title defence for the former.

Yeah, I think Weili Zhang, you know,” Dern replied when asked who does she think will come out on top between the two. “I think she’s just got a (sic) good momentum right now, and I think Rose (Namajunas) — and I don’t know, I don’t know them personally so. I think Rose, she looks like she’s kinda — I see her traveling all the time and doing these things, and Zhang Weili is just posting training, training, training, training, training. And I say, ‘Man, I don’t think she does anything besides train’, you know.

She just seems like she’s (Weili) really motivated right now,” Dern explained. “I don’t know —  I don’t know how much motivation you get right? You get the belt, then you lose it and you come back again and it’s a lot to keep putting your body through that. Mentally-wise, it’s draining, you know. So I don’t know how mentally-wise Rose is prepared for this fight — not just for this fight but to go back at all (sic) you 100% for the belt again.

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Tying UFC flyweight contender, Gillian Robertson for the most submission wins in the history of the UFC’s women’s divisions, Dern scored her fourth submission win last weekend. Improving her Octagon record to 6-1, the 28-year-old has notched wins over Ashley Yoder, Amanda Cooper, Hannah Cifers, Randa Markos, Virna Jandiroba, and the aforenoted, Nunes — with her sole loss coming against fellow grappler, Amanda Ribas.

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Aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Follow along at @Ross_Markey on Twitter for all the latest news, fight announcements, opinion, and feature pieces.