Mackenzie Dern

Mackenzie Dern waits for the opening bell against Ashley Yoder in her UFC debut March 3.

Ironwood graduate Mackenzie Dern battled out a tough three-round, split-decision victory over Ashley Yoder March 3 in Las Vegas in one of the most anticipated debuts in UFC history.

Dern, a multi-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion, used a takedown in the final two minutes of the fight to secure a 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 split-decision victory over fellow strawweight fighter Yoder after struggling early to get her game going.

“I feel great, I am happy with myself and I put more pressure on myself than anyone else can,” Dern said after the bout. “I really wanted the submission late, but I just want to improve and show that I can stand up and become a better fighter with each bout.”

Dern opened early with some strikes and a kick to the leg that landed early and stunned Yoder in the first round. Dern followed up with throwing hard rights and lefts that landed a few times, but Yoder quickly tied up Dern, who then tried to take Yoder to the mat.

“I looked for a takedown early, but I wanted to stand up and fight,” Dern said.

With less than a minute left in the first round, Dern grabbed Yoder and got her to the mat and got around for a choke, but Yoder defended the attempt and countered with a few jabs as the first round ended.

In the second round, Dern came out quickly and connected with a punch kick combo before Yoder connected with a right that cut Dern’s mouth before landing a left hook that forced Dern to go forward where she landed two punches and tied Yoder up.

Yoder would spin around and force Dern against the cage, before escaping and getting back to the middle of the ring. The two then battled back and forth with punches and kicks before Yoder connected with a left hook that dropped Dern to the mat. She quickly recovered and attempted a takedown in the final seconds of the round, but Yoder defended the attempt.

Yoder came out quickly in the third, keeping Dern in the middle of the ring trying to escape with a decision victory, but Dern continued to press, connecting with a combination before getting Yoder to the mat. She got around Yoder’s back and looked to secure a choke but couldn’t get her arm under Yoder’s chin as the final seconds of the round ticked down. Dern adjusted and landed some punches, before one final attempt at the choke before the horn sounded to end the fight.

As the judges’ results were announced, with each fighter getting one judge, Dern started to worry before being announced as the split-decision winner, she said.

“I wasn’t concerned until they announced one each (from the judges),” Dern said. “I thought it was two to one, but I stuck to my game plan and (Yoder) was a tough fight.”

Dern (6-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who is getting pushed after defeating Yoder (5-4 MMA, 0-3 UFC) in her UFC debut, is looking for a quick turnaround for her next bout, but is not expecting a quick push to the top.

“I don’t want to be fast-tracked to the top of the division, I want to earn it and I want to show who I am and the type of fighter I am,” Dern said. “I do know I would love to fight again quickly, maybe in Brazil (UFC 224 May 12) where I have a lot of fans, which would be a good spot for my next fight.”

Also fighting out of the MMA Lab in Glendale was Sean O’Malley, who may have put on the fight of the night in defeating Andre Soukhamthath with a 29-27, 29-27, 29-28 unanimous decision.

O’Malley (10-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) could not put pressure on his right foot in the third round after breaking it. With just over three minutes left in the fight, O’Malley’s leg was clearly in pain and Soukhamthath (12-6, 1-3) took the fight to the canvas, which was the wrong thing to do. If he had stayed upright, the referee probably would have stopped the fight as O’Malley could clearly not stand on his foot.

Soukhamthath went after a submission, but O’Malley was quick to separate. With 70 seconds left, O’Malley got back to his feet again and landed a spinning elbow. Again, Soukhamthath pulled O’Malley to the mat, but O’Malley held on for the win.