While Chinese strawweight Yan Xiaonan is generally lauded for her striking abilities, she showed vastly improved grappling abilities, as well, en route to scoring a hard-fought decision win over Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Mackenzie Dern.
The contest served as the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night 211, which streamed live on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
As expected, it was Yan who was the aggressor to start, walking forward with strikes and looking to score damage on the feet. Dern initially looked to return fire but quickly seized each opportunity to clinch and turn the bout into a grappling contest. She did eventually work the action to the canvas late in the frame, though she was largely unable to capitalize with any real submission attempts.
Dern pulled guard quickly in the second, entangling Yan's leg and dragging her to the floor. Yan was careful to stay out of trouble but did take the chance to drive in punches at every available opportunity. Undeterred, Dern was able to maneuver into position for a deep arm-triangle attempt before abandoning it to move to mount. Yan turned to her knees, exposing her back, leaving Dern opportunities to look first for a choke and then an armbar, though Yan was able to squirm and survive until the bell.
Dern clinched quickly in the third and pulled guard, again dragging the fight to her world, though Yan was able to pull free and move back to the feet, where she switched stances and rifled in big punches while looking to keep range. Yan landed a few punishing kicks to the body, as well as big punches up top, all while using active footwork to keep away from any further grappling exchanges.
Dern shot forward early in the fourth, latching on to a single-leg takedown that she wasn't able to convert. Bolstered by the rebuttal, Yan turned up the heat with her strikes, keeping her volume high and landing heavy punches up top, while also continuing to drive kicks to the body. Dern was eventually able to overhook an arm and drag Yan to her guard, though she was again unable to do much with the limited time on the floor.
With the fight potentially on the line in the fifth, Dern was able to work inside and drag the fight to the floor, where she quickly moved to the back and was able to work in her hooks. Yan defended well and desperately looked to escape back to the feet, though she struggled to get free. In the final minute. Dern turned her attention to her opponent's left arm, nearly earning a full extension before Yan broke feee and swept to the top, furiously pounding away with punches until the final bell.
In the end, Yan was awarded a majority decision, with one judge scoring the fight even at 47-47, and two giving it to Yan, 48-47.
Afterward, an exhausted Yan admitted she was proud of her efforts to fight out of some very compromising positions.
"I know her jiu-jitsu is amazing," Yan said. "She's a black belt, I'm a white belt, so I knew what I should expect in this fight, but I trained so hard. so I knew I could do this."
Yan (16-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC), who entered the matchup at No. 6 in the UFC's official strawweight rankings, snapped a two-fight skid with the result. Meanwhile, No. 5 Dern (12-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC) falls to 1-2 in her past three contests.
MAIN CARD (ESPN+)
- Yan Xiaonan def. Mackenzie Dern via majority decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-47)
- Randy Brown def. Francisco Trinaldo via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Raoni Barcelos def. Trevin Jones via unanimous decision (30-25, 30-27, 30-27)
- Sodiq Yusuff def. Don Shainis via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 1, 0:30
- Mike Davis def. Viacheslav Borshchev via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26, 30-26)
PRELIMINARY CARD (ESPN+)
- Daniel Santos def. John Castaneda via knockout (punches, knee) – Round 2, 4:28
- Ilir Latifi def. Aleksei Oleinik via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Joaquim Silva def. Jesse Ronson via TKO (flying knee, punches) – Round 2, 3:08
- Brendan Allen def. Krzysztof Jotko via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 4:17
- Chelsea Chandler def. Julija Stoliarenko via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 4:15
- Guido Cannetti def. Randy Costa via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 1:04
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.