Dern (12-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC), who is No. 5 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie rankings at 115 pounds, and No. 9 Xiaonan (15-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) will headline UFC Fight Night 211 on Oct. 1 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Dern and Xiaonan are Nos. 5 and 6 in the official UFC rankings, which underscores the significance of their matchup.
After that, the fights in the division only get bigger.
At UFC 280 on Oct. 22, No. 3 Marina Rodriguez – who owns wins over Dern and Xiaonan – takes on No. 8 Amanda Lemos at UFC 280. And then there’s the biggest fight happening Nov. 12 at UFC 281 in New York, where champion Carla Esparza will put her title on the line against former champ Zhang Weili.
With Esparza dethroning previous champ Rose Namajunas earlier this year, the strawweight division is in the middle of change. According to Tim Simpson of Paradigm Sports, who manages Dern and Xiaonan, the opportunity to leave a lasting impression is huge after those other two fights play out behind them.
“I think it’s very close to (a title eliminator),” Simpson told MMA Junkie. “(Strawweight) is kind of wide open at the moment, when you have a new champion. It’ll be interesting to see what they do. Mackenzie’s back on a really good streak. You have to pay respect to Marina Rodriguez, who’s right there and has a win over both of those girls, and she’s got a fight coming up to. Obvious respect to the former champ, Rose Namajunas. So it’s interesting at 115, and it’s about making a statement.”
Dern got back in the win column in her most recent fight at UFC 273 where she beat Tecia Torres by split decision. That result came after the loss to Rodriguez snapped her five-fight winning streak.
A Xiaonan loss would be detrimental to her title aspirations as it would serve to be her third straight after dropping back-to-back fights to Esparza and Rodriguez.
“When it’s crowded and you’re not really sure what’s gonna happen next, who’s gonna make a statement?” Simpson said. “Both Xiaonan and Mackenzie have an opportunity to make a statement in what’s now becoming a top-heavy division. It’s exciting for both of them.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 211.