Heading into UFC Vegas 39, Daniel Vreeland takes an in-depth look at a particular technique or group of techniques that could influence the fight. This week, he digs into the development of Mackenzie Dern‘s hands and how it may lead to a main event victory.

The Basics

While she tried to stay away from it as much as possible early in her career, Mackenzie Dern has always had to strike to some extent. However, as of late, she has added a few tools to the way that she throws her punches. These additions have paid dividends as she’s racked up a few wins in a row.

The first thing she’s been doing is putting together some combinations. Again, she has been doing this at some level since the beginning of time, but the newest work seems to be far more advanced. The combination that she seems to be most in love with at the moment is a double-up jab followed by a right and left hook. Sometimes when the right doesn’t find a home, she pulls back before overextending herself further with the left, but the majority of the time we see both. This combination is usually paired with a blitzing forward with the feet that puts her right on top of her opponent.

The other things she’s been doing in her striking is using a big overhand right. This comes in a variety of forms and really depends on the match-up she’s in. When she fought Nina Nunes, she used this off of a leg kick that she caught. While holding the heel/Achilles, she launched a big overhand right that glanced off the top of Nunes‘ head. We also saw this occasionally when she fought Virna Jandiroba, but it came without prompting from her opponent.

Integration

Often, when people add new striking weapons into their game, they appear completely disconnected from some of the other great things that they do. This isn’t the case with Dern, who has already begun to match her newfound striking skills with the style people have come to know and love from her.

In the case of both of these different striking techniques, Dern uses them to get the fight where she likes it – in tight. The four-piece combination, especially when paired with the advancing footwork, usually gets her right into the face of her opponent. It is second nature for most fighters to grab a hold of an opponent when this happens – usually digging an underhook. However, that’s exactly what Dern is looking for here. A lot of her takedowns involve trips from the clinch, so a tie-up, even one she doesn’t have advantageous positioning in, is still a positive for her.

The overhand works similarly. A lot of wrestlers use an overhand because if is misses, or even if it lands, it leads her body right in position of one of her opponent’s legs. Dern isn’t quite doing that all the time, but it does leave that option open. Paired with a caught leg kick, it is how she took down and eventually finished Nina Nunes.

Match-up

There’s no secret that Mackenzie Dern does not have the striking advantage in this fight. This was always a grappler vs striker match-up. However, Dern’s improvements to her boxing are far more than just working to be competitive on the feet. They are avenues of which to gain access to her favorite part of the fight.

Marina Rodriguez does a really great job of keeping distance from her opponents. Her footwork is solid, and she has great counters even off the back foot. I don’t expect the doubled-up jab combination to work even half the time on Rodriguez, but it really only needs to lead to a takedown once or twice to do what it is there for. When you stop looking at Dern’s striking as a weapon of its own and instead see it as a way to get there – you can see that these improvements are far bigger than they look as standalone pieces.

Daniel "Gumby" Vreeland has been an MMA writer for over a decade. He currently hosts The Top Turtle Podcast and is a member of the UFC's ranking panel.