LAS VEGAS – Ashley Yoder is aware that Mackenzie Dern is the fighter who most people expect to come out victorious when the strawweights clash at UFC 222 on Saturday.
With that fact laid out, Yoder could take a few different approaches. She could choose to focus on what she doesn’t have – be it hype or favorable odds – heading into the octagon at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against the highly touted super prospect. Or she instead could keep in mind what she might have gained by the time they leave it.
Yoder seems to have gone with the latter.
“It’s an opportunity, so you’ve got to see it as that,” Yoder told MMAjunkie ahead of the flyweight bout, which closes out the night’s FS1-televised preliminary card prior to the pay-per-view main card. “We all go into the octagon with no special gifts. They don’t go, ‘All right, here’s a medal to put in your glove.’ We all go in there as your own fighter, so I’m looking for the upset. I’m looking to be known after this fight.”
There is certainly a lot in it for Yoder (5-3 MMA, 0-2 UFC), who’s one of the biggest underdogs on the card. Beating Dern (5-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) would mean, first of all, snapping the two-fight skid that kicked off her UFC run. But it would also mean handing Dern the first loss of her pro MMA career.
While Dern has certainly showed some improved striking in her most recent outings, there isn’t much of a secret as to what her biggest strength is: the stellar grappling that made her, at only 24, one of the most accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors of her generation.
Yoder will always give credit where it’s due – and Dern, she said, is certainly worthy of hers. But at the same time, there’s quite a difference when moving from the mat to the octagon.
“You don’t have a gi on, (and) no-gi is different than gi,” Yoder said. “MMA is way different – because you’re getting punched in the face. You’re getting elbowed, you’re getting kneed, and hopefully not bit, but everything else is pretty much allowed.
“And on that side of it, I’ve had my fair share of face-punching and cuts and everything else. So I’m OK with being anywhere in the cage.”
Yoder’s previous UFC outings didn’t end on a positive note, but there’s something to be said for the level of competition she faced in Justine Kish and Angela Hill. She also took both to the judges’ scorecards – not to mention that, at the end of the day, she’s already seen the ins and outs of something that’s entirely new for Dern.
“I’ve had a lot more of my fights in Vegas than anywhere else,” Yoder said. “So, that alone – plus, being in the UFC or my third fight gives me a little bit more comfort. I’ve been through the T-Mobile Arena. I’ve been there. I know where the locker room is. I can mentally visualize the night. Of course I think that gives me some kind of advantage. It definitely gives me confidence.”
Although the confidence in her isn’t shared by most people, Yoder is ultimately excited to be part of the process – and, hopefully, to “make a couple of people look stupid” in the process.
As for the how, getting a submission win over a grappler of Dern’s caliber would certainly be one way to make a statement. But that’s not something Yoder is necessarily pursuing. Come fight time, she said, it’s about keeping it where she feels comfortable. Which, when it comes to Yoder, encompasses quite a broad spectrum.
“I’m comfortable everywhere,” Yoder said. “I’m not trying to go in and make it a grappling match. I’m here for fun fights, and that means face-punching. And honestly, I don’t mind getting bloody. So if you’ve seen any of my fights, I think that’s the case.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that a submission is out of the question.
“I see it not going all three rounds,” Yoder said. “I see it hopefully getting a finish, whether it’s ground-and-pound or surprising the world with some kind of submission. You never know. Anything can happen, and I’ve had finishes. Four of my five wins have been from armbars, so don’t underestimate me.”