UFC Vegas 73: Recent close losses have upped the ante for Angela Hill and Mackenzie Dern

Whenever Angela Hill glances at her MMA record — 15-12 — she'll grimace. And her 9-12 record outside of the UFC makes her grimace even a bit longer.

"It makes me look like a 50/50 fighter," Hill said, "and I know I'm not that. I fight only the best of the best of the best, you know? I could be 22-5 but I'm 15-12. It's like, 'This isn't representative of who I am as a fighter, but it's what they'll announce me before the fight."

She'll fight Mackenzie Dern in the main event Saturday of UFC Vegas 73 at Apex in Las Vegas, a key bout for positioning in the strawweight division. Dern has a much more palatable record of 12-3, but she, too, believes it could be better.

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So each woman enters the bout looking to forget the close decisions that went the wrong way and get on a streak that will put them in position to fight for the belt sooner rather than later.

There are other considerations, too, when a fighter loses via questionable decisions. Most MMA fighters, though not all, get half of their salary to show and only earn the other half if they win. Hill goes through the fights she lost that she believes she won and expresses shock.

"That is a lot of money," she said. "I didn't get into this sport for the money and when I started fighting, I never thought it would be my main job, so I never have money at the front of my head. It's about knowing how good I am. My coaches and my teammates see how hard I work and what I do, and I think what bothers me about so many of those is more that the embarrassment [of losing] is harsher than the loss in the paycheck.

"It hurts to think of it from a financial standpoint because that's a lot of money, but it's also money I never had. I just wish that record was different and I know it should be, and a lot of people, not just me, feel the same way."

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 03: Angela Hill reacts after the conclusion of her strawweight fight against Emily Ducote during the UFC Fight Night event at Amway Center on December 03, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Angela Hill has lost a lot of close fights that make her record look iffy, but she believes in herself and is more determined than ever going into the bout with Mackenzie Dern on Saturday in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Dern lost to Yan Xiaonan her last time out in a fight she could have won. She said she learned from it though, after she had stepped away from it.

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Her understanding of what she needed to do in the Octagon improved. She's one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the UFC and she said she often finds herself only looking to win by submission. She eventually began to realize that there are other ways to win a fight aside from using jiu-jitsu.

The Xiaonan fight clarified for her the issue she had been facing.

"When I was in that fight, I felt I'd done everything I could," she said. "During this fight camp for Angela, though, I got a whole different vision. One of my teammates, Antonio Trocoli ... helped me to understand what my team has been telling me all along. ... I just need to win round by round.

"Before, I was just going, 'I need to submit. I need to submit,' and if I didn't do it, you could see the frustration in me starting. I'd close the distance and try to force the takedown. Antonio helped me understand that I'm fighting the best of the best, and they know I have great jiu-jitsu and they're spending their whole camp training to defend. But I have other tools, too, that I can use because when they're worried about me submitting them, I can do something else."

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They're on the same page in terms of attitude. Dern said with a win, she would like to fight ex-champion Rose Namajunas but said a rematch with Xiaonan is also in the cards.

Hill just wants to avoid frustration and said all the close defeats have made her more determined than ever to get to the top.

"It’s frustrating, and there’s that word again, but it’s the best way to describe it," Hill said. "If I had won those fights, I’d be in a much different spot. But my motivation has never waved and it’s what keeps me hungry. I have money in the bank and I have a house and I’m not wanting for anything. The only thing I want, the only thing I crave, is that respect. It’s what gets me up early in the morning. It’s why I do three or four sessions a day outside of fight camp. I’m hungry for that respect."