UFC strawweight submission specialist, Mackenzie Dern has claimed that prior to her matched clash with Muay Thai striker, Marina Rodriguez for a UFC Vegas event in October, the promotion had approached her with a pairing opposite inaugural Invicta FC and UFC champion, Carla Esparza — which she claimed the Californian turned down.

Undefeated in her last four outings, Arizona submission ace, Dern met with the returning Nina Nunes at UFC on ABC 2 in April — submitting the top-five contender with an impressive opening round armbar win. The submission stoppage came as her fourth in the UFC.

Headlining in October, Dern meets with Rio Grande do Sul native, Rodriguez — with the latter last matching with former Invicta FC atomweight champion and strawweight mainstay, Michelle Waterson at UFC Vegas 26 in May. The win came as the Brazil’s second following an impressive second round knockout win over compatriot, Amanda Ribas at UFC 257 in January on ‘Fight Island’.

Last weekend, the promotion officially confirmed the strawweight title rematch of Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili — which will co-headline UFC 268, leading to many questions regarding the aforenoted, Esparza’s calls for a title rematch with Namajunas herself, off the back of a five-fight undefeated run — which recently added an eye-catching second round knockout win over Yan Xiaonan. 

According to Dern, who spoke with LowKick MMA reporter, James Lynch — the UFC had attempted to pair her opposite, Esparza, however, the 33-year-old Team Oyama native allegedly turned down the bout agreement in favor of waiting for a title tilt of her own.

They (the UFC) offered Carla Esparza but I think maybe she wanted to wait for the belt,” Dern said. “So who knows? Maybe being in a good fight in the main event (against Marina Rodriguez), I can jump in front and maybe go to the belt.

I don’t know if she (Esparza) was on her honeymoon, she had just fought Yan (Xiaonan),” Dern explained. “She had a great performance, you know, so I don’t think she got injured or anything in that fight but, I don’t know how good her camp was, she was probably tired — just take a little time (off). I know she felt like she should get the belt, and I agreed. If it wasn’t Zhang Weili, I would think Carla.

Whilst Dern hypothesised that Esparza would rather wait and sit out for a title shot, she, in fact, could no longer wait and that’s how her pairing with Rodriguez came to fruition.

As soon as they gave it to Zhang Weili, ‘Hey, lets me and you (Esparza) do the fight’, but she had some things going on and she wanted to wait for the belt. And they offered Marina, so I don’t wanna stay waiting for Carla to wanna fight and waiting to see who wins between Rose (Namajunas) and Zhang Weili.

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.