Saturday night's UFC Fight Night main event between women's strawweights Yan Xiaonan and Mackenzie Dern was an old-school battle of striker versus grappler. In a critical moment in her career, Xiaonan, the striker, managed to score a narrow majority decision for her biggest win to date.
Xiaonan did well in the first round, landing leg kicks and using movement to poke at Dern with a variety of punches. She was also able to avoid takedowns throughout the round, including countering a Dern attempt to take the fight to the mat and landing a few punches from top position.
Dern, who was initially confident to exchange on the feet, began laying traps on the ground in the second round. After Xiaonan caught a Dern kick that sent Dern to the canvas, the jiu-jitsu specialist scooted forward on her back and tangled up Xiaonan's legs to force engagement on the ground.
Dern locked in an omoplata before transitioning to an arm triangle and advancing to mount and threatening with more submission attempts to remind Xiaonan of her dominance on the ground.
Xiaonan quickly became wise to Dern's tricks, avoiding danger in the grappling while also continuing to brutalize Dern's lead leg with heavy kicks. As Dern became visibly frustrated, Xiaonan relied on her movement and strength to pop off strikes while not being sucked into dangerous exchanges on the ground.
Dern was able to dominate the fifth round after scoring a takedown and spending nearly half of the round on Xiaonan's back. Xiaonan managed to defend any submission attempts, including a late armbar. Xiaonan's ability to survive the dangerous end to the fight proved to be enough as she managed to make it to the final bell and take the win via majority decision by scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 47-47.
"I know her jiu-jitsu is amazing," Xiaonan said through an interpreter after the fight. "She's a black belt and I'm a white belt. So, I know what I should expect in this fight, but I trained so hard. Four times, five times on grappling in this camp. So I knew I could make it."
The win was a critical one for Xiaonan, who entered the fight having lost her two previous fights. Prior to losing to Carla Esparza by TKO and Marina Rodriguez by narrow split decision, Xiaonan had won 12 consecutive fights, not including a no contest.
Dern has now lost two of her three most recent fights, having dropped a unanimous decision to Rodriguez in October 2021 before a split decision win over Tecia Torres in April.