Mackenzie Dern impresses in UFC debut, beats Ashley Yoder

LAS VEGAS -- Widely regarded female prospect Mackenzie Dern made good on her anticipated UFC debut on Saturday, defeating Ashley Yoder via split decision at UFC 222.

Fans have been waiting to see Dern, a 24-year-old submission specialist from Arizona, in the UFC for nearly two years -- ever since she made her MMA debut in July 2016. One of the most promising 115-pound prospects in the world, Dern (6-0) is a renowned Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner and earned her black belt at age 19.

She struggled to get Yoder (5-4) to the ground during Saturday's strawwewight fight inside T-Mobile Arena, however, and was forced to rely on her unproven standup. Dern survived a flash knockdown in the second round, after she walked into Yoder's straight left hand. She was able to recover, and continued pressuring Yoder along the fence.

A takedown finally came in the final round, and Dern nearly submitted Yoder in the final minute. Two judges scored the bout for Dern, 29-28. A third had it for Yoder, 29-28. ESPN also had it 29-28 for Dern.

"I didn't come here and try to get a submission in the first 10 seconds," Dern said. "I'm a striker, too."

Yoder, of California, fed Dern a steady diet of unchecked leg kicks, as well as a counter left hand. Dern's game plan relied on aggression, as she boxed her way into the clinch to look for takedowns. Although the takedowns were hard to come by, Dern scored regularly with the overhand right and opened a cut over Yoder's left eye.

With the result on the line in the third, Dern converted a single-leg takedown and immediately jumped to Yoder's back. It was all Yoder could do to survive from there, as the accomplished grappler came close to working her left arm under Yoder's chin.

Fighting out of MMA Lab, home to former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, Dern has finished half of her MMA fights via submission.