LAS VEGAS – Marina Rodriguez knows exactly what to expect when she steps in the cage with vaunted submission artist Mackenzie Dern, and she’s making no attempt to pretend otherwise.

With a base firmly rooted in muay Thai, Rodriguez isn’t planning on proving anything on the ground against a highly decorated grappling ace and knows the key to victory lies in keeping the action on the feet.

“For sure, it will be a war of styles,” Rodriguez told MMA Junkie in her native Portuguese. “She comes from jiu-jitsu. I come from muay Thai. Of course, we all strive to be complete fighters. I’ve been working on my ground game since I first had the idea of becoming an MMA fighter. Of course, I won’t reach the amount of time Mackenzie has invested in jiu-jitsu. Likewise, she won’t match my muay Thai experience. I’m confident she’s focusing on her standup, with the goal of taking me down.”

Rodriguez (14-1-2 MMA, 4-1-2 UFC) and Dern (11-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) meet in the headlining bout of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 194 event, which takes place at the UFC Apex and streams live on ESPN+. It’s a key matchup at 115 pounds, with Dern checking in at No. 5 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie strawweight rankings and Rodriguez just behind at No. 6.

It’s also Rodriguez’s second consecutive main event, and she admits it’s a thrilling opportunity.

“Fighting in the UFC alone is already pretty exciting by itself,” Rodriguez said. “But main eventing is a special feeling, not just for everything that surrounds it, but just knowing that the UFC trusts you to put on a show for five rounds makes it even more special and motivates me way more than a regular fight would.”

UFC Fight Night 194 free fight: Marina Rodriguez outboxes Michelle Waterson in five-round battle

UFC Fight Night 194 free fight: Mackenzie Dern makes quick work of Nina Nunes

But the 34-year-old Rodriguez isn’t in MMA just for the excitement of headlining cards. Instead, she’s focused on continuing to climb the ranks and eventually challenging for the UFC title. She knows a recent setback to former champ Carla Esparza means she’s a little further back in line, but with that standing as Rodriguez’s only UFC loss to date, she does believe her time will come sooner rather than later.

“If I win in an impressive manner, I believe I can climb as high as No. 3,” Rodriguez said. “Inactive fighters like Joanna Jedrzejczyk should be dropped from the rankings. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the results of Rose Namajunas against Weili Zhang.

“Since Carla Esparza is ranked above me, she probably deserves to fight for the belt first. I’d love to rematch against her, but it would be even better if the belt was on the line. It would be a perfect story. Of course, if Carla is not available to face the winner of Rose vs. Weili, I’ll gladly take that spot.”

Of course, Rodriguez knows all of that goes away if she doesn’t deliver a victory on Saturday night. Rodriguez believes she’s capable of doing exactly that, and she hopes to do it in an emphatic fashion.

“Perfect day, I would get my knockout in the first or second round, but we know it’s a tough fight,” Rodriguez said. “Who knows? My main thing is I’m going to have to be able to put her in my game and not being able to let her do what she wants. I’ll just frustrate her and put on a striking clinic, or maybe win a five-round fight.”

To see the full media day interview with Rodriguez, check out the video above.



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