1. Mackenzie Dern vs. Yan Xiaonan
This bout against favored prospect Mackenzie Dern (12-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) might be seen as win or go home. For Yan Xiaonan (15-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC), It could also be seen exactly how it is, a tough fighter on a very tough stretch of opponents. Yan was on an impressive six-fight win streak over very respectable opponents. Then she suffered back to back losses, but to who? She lost her last fight by split decision to Marina Rodriguez, absolutely no shame there, as Rodriguez has been killing it with back-to-back wins over Yan and Dern.
Yan also got pretty beat up by current strawweight champ Carla Esparza. That was not a good look, as it highlighted a glaring weakness in her ground game. Dern, herself, is coming off a rough loss to Marina and more recently a controversial split-decision win over Tecia Torres. The upside on Dern is her elite level ground game, however she has struggled getting the takedown. For perspective, Esparza only needed three takedowns to mount the right offense to put Yan away. Dern has an arguably more technical ground game, but her takedown accuracy is an alarmingly low 10 percent. Without the takedown, Dern can be baited into disadvantageous striking wars, as seen in her losses to Rodriguez and Amanda Ribas.
Hardcore History: Yan started her combat sports journey with sanda, formerly known as sanshou. Sanda encompasses boxing and kickboxing, originally developed by the Chinese military based on a hybrid of kung fu and modern fighting techniques. Yan was introduced to MMA around 2008, just before she turned 20. She fought professionally in China until she turned 27. Finally, in 2017, she made her UFC debut in Singapore, the first ever Chinese-born female fighter signed by the UFC. Two years later, she had her first fight on American soil, fighting on the prelims of "UFC 238: Cejudo vs. Moraes."
Her opponent, Dern, needs little introduction. Famously transitioning to MMA after a loudly celebrated career in Jiu Jitsu, she is known as the most dangerous woman on the mat, irrespective of weight class. It's rumored that she started grappling around 3 years old. The known fact is that she's won just about every major tournament, including IBJJF, IBJJF no-gi, and UAEJJF World Pro Championship.
Dave's Pick: Mackenzie Dern is -225. The total is 2.5 rounds, with the under being the favorite at -200.
The loss that Dern suffered against Rodriguez back in October of '21 could've possibly been the best thing that ever could've happened to Dern's career. In my opinion, that night she learned two things:
1. You can't wait around for a perfect opportunity for a takedown, especially against a high-level striker (she took way too much damage).
2. Her standup still needs plenty of work, and she needs to rely on what got her to the dance in the first place. After the one-sided loss against Rodriguez, we saw her implement those lessons in the very next fight against Torres, and her aggressiveness paid off. Dern will implement the same game plan here, and win this fight by submission. I’m taking Dern at -225, and a prop on Dern by submission at -120
2. Sodiq Yusuff vs. Don Shainis
Sodiq Yusuff (12-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) was originally scheduled to co-main event last weekend's fight night against highly touted prospect Giga Chikadze. Reports are Chikadze withdrew due to an undisclosed medical condition. On less than one week's notice, Yusuff finds himself standing across from a new opponent, one mostly unknown to fans of major fight promotions. Enter Don Shainis (12-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC), riding a five-fight win streak, including four TKOs. A true wild man who has blurred the line between featherweight and lightweight, he suddenly lands in the UFC's featherweight division, one of its deepest divisions. This is a much more favorable matchup for Yusuff, considering the fiercely swift striking exhibited by his formerly scheduled opponent. That being said, Don doesn't shy away from a brawl and will throw everything at Yusuff. He's won by flying knee knockout and is known to jump on submissions if he hurts you on the feet. That level of finishing IQ mixed with Yusuff's willingness to stand and strike could make for serious fireworks. The caveat and main consideration being Shainis' gas tank, not having been in a true fight camp (10-12 weeks) preparing for this matchup. Good thing it's only scheduled three rounds.
Hardcore History: Yusuff is of Nigerian descent and only just gained his U.S. citizenship before his fight with Andre Fili in January of 2020. It's pretty scary to think of the possible road blocks to get that citizenship considering COVID-19 protocols started just two months later – the struggle could have grown immensely had there been even a small hiccup that pushed the process back, which happens all the time. Phew, thankfully it all worked out ... (subtly wipes sweat off forehead).
Yusuff started his MMA career around the age of 20 and went pro around the age of 23. His most notable loss is a decision loss to shooting star Arnold Allen and that's his only loss in the UFC. As for his opponent, Shainis spent part of his career training with Citadel Martial Arts, just an hour north of his birthplace in Easton, Mass. After a very serious neck injury and tough decision loss in his first fight back from the injury, he moved his training to St. Louis with former UFC veteran and highly touted coach, James Krause. He's gone 5-1 since moving to Krause's Glory MMA & Fitness, with four of those wins coming by TKO.
Dave's Pick: Yusuff is the largest favorite on the card, at -900. The total is 1.5 with the over at -150. To me, the play is on the under, as the path to victory for Shainis will be striking. Without a full camp for Shainis, this fight shouldn't go the distance, I could very easily see a stoppage win within 7.5 minutes of combat. Also, collectively they share 17 wins coming before the start of round 3. My play is the under 1.5 at plus money.
Dave Manley is the creator and CEO of MMA Bobbleheads, a California-based company making handmade, high-quality, high-artistry bobbleheads of your favorite MMA personalities. A 25-plus year fan of MMA, Manley saw a need for high-end, handcrafted memorabilia for fans and decided to create the best bobbleheads that have ever been made for any sport. Learn more on Twitter and Instagram.