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Sports Illustrated Notebook: Yan Xiaonan eyes winner's circle in the octagon at UFC Fight Night 211

Can the sixth-ranked underdog reverse a two-fight skid to stay in the title picture?

Saturday's UFC Fight Night 211 represents a chance for Yan Xiaonan to reassert herself in the women's strawweight title picture.

Xiaonan fights fifth-ranked Mackenzie Dern (12-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) in the night's main event, which takes place at a closed-off UFC Apex. Coming off two straight losses, Xiaonan (15-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) desperately needs this victory to remain in contention.

"UFC has shown a lot of faith in me by putting in the main event," says Xiaonan, speaking through a translator. "I always put a great deal of pressure on myself in every fight, so this will be no different."

Dern enters the bout as the favorite. Her Brazilian jiu-jitsu is elite. Ultimately, that is the key to the bout. If Xiaonan can stop Dern from having her way on the mat, then she should be able to inflict some damage of her own. But if Dern is grappling and issuing some vicious ground-and-pound, it is going to end poorly for Xiaonan.

"I did a lot of training on the ground, and I am ready for the fight to go to the ground," Xiaonan says. "My training has made me ready."

Both women are seeking a shot against strawweight champ Carla Esparza. For Xiaonan, who is ranked sixth in the division, a win here will not catapult her to a title shot – but it could lead to a bout against former two-time champ Rose Namajunas.

"Rose is always someone I want to fight against," Xiaonan says. "She is an opponent I want. But my focus is on this fight. This is the fight I need. You will see me be more cautious. I'll be aggressive, but I'll be smarter, too."

McKee makes a case for trilogy vs. 'Pitbull'


Saturday's Bellator 286 is a pivotal night for the future of A.J. McKee.

McKee makes his debut at lightweight against Spike Carlyle. This is his first bout since dropping the featherweight title to Patrício "Pitbull" Freire, and he needs a convincing victory against Carlyle to showcase his star power. The best-case scenario for McKee is a spectacular knockout win in front of his home crowd in Long Beach, California, followed by a successful title defense from Freire in the main event against Ádam Borics. The night could then end with a Pitbull-McKee faceoff, building to their trilogy.

Once he is finished with the trilogy, McKee can make a permanent move to lightweight.

The future of the top of the featherweight division will have far more clarity by the time 286 concludes, beginning with the Aaron Pico-Jeremy Kennedy bout. If Pico defeats Kennedy, his next objective will be seeking redemption against Borics, who defeated him in June of 2019 – which was also Pico's last loss.

If all that falls into place, it begins to clear the path for Pico's highly anticipated run as champ. Only 26, he is already one of the most exciting mixed martial artists on the Bellator roster – but he needs the belt to cement his place as one of the best in the sport.

What to watch: ONE on Prime Video 2

In addition to UFC and Bellator, this weekend also features action from ONE Championship.

ONE on Prime Video 2 is headlined by women's strawweight champion Xiong Jing Nan defending the belt against Angela Lee. The two have split their first two bouts (Xiong by TKO in March of 2019, followed by Lee evening the score in the rematch with a submission victory that October), and this should settle the score over who is the best in ONE.

This bout is also unique because Lee is going for double-champ status. Already the reigning ONE atomweight champion, she is looking to also place the strawweight belt around her waist. If she wins, it leads to an interesting debate–where does she fall against the field in women's MMA?

Lee's brother Christian Lee will be chasing a double champ status of his own. Already the ONE lightweight champ, he challenges welterweight champion Kiamrian Abbasov this November at Prime Video 4.

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