UFC Fight Night 224 breakdown: How smaller cage affects Mackenzie Dern-Angela Hill matchup

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC Fight Night 224.

UFC Fight Night 224 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card streams on ESPN+.

Mackenzie Dern (12-3 MMA, 7-3 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’4″ Age: 30 Weight: 115 lbs. Reach: 63″

  • Last fight: Decision loos to Yan Xiaonan (Oct. 1, 2022)

  • Camp: RVCA Gym (California)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Multiple grappling world championships
^ In and out of the gi
+ 7 submission wins
+ 6 first-round finishes
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Steadily improved striking
^ Heavy hands and hard leg kicks
+ Favors takedown attempts from the clinch
+ Excellent transitional grappler
+ Active and attacking guard game
^ Superb sweeps and submissions

Angela Hill (15-12 MMA, 10-12 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’3″ Age: 38 Weight: 115 lbs. Reach: 64.5″

  • Last fight: Decision win over Emily Ductoe (Dec. 3, 2022)

  • Camp: Alliance MMA (California)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Invicta FC strawweight title
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt
+ Amateur muay Thai accolades
+ 5 KO victories
+ 1 first-round finish
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Active feints and footwork
^ Dips, drop steps, lateral movement
+ Diverse shot selection
^ Dangerous kicks and elbows
+ Strong inside the clinch
+ Improved wrestling and grappling ability

Point of interest: Striking in the small cage

Dec 3, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Angela Hill (red gloves) fights Emily Ducote (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The main event in Las Vegas features an impromptu main event between Mackenzie Dern and Angela Hill.

A fighter who is much better than her resume would lead to you believe, Hill has done a lot of growing through her two tenures with the UFC.

Initially started out in muay Thai, Hill has always had a knack for the striking arts. An active mover, Hill is good about filling space with feints as she looks to dip or drop-step into attacks. And if Hill is able to draw out anything significant with a feint, she appears to have some solid pre-loaded strikes that she likes to counter in combination with.

When crashing into range, Hill has a good sense for sending hard knees but isn’t beyond bailing out when things don’t feel right. That said, Hill will likely be leaning a lot more on her lateral footwork against an opponent like Dern.

Even though Dern made her name in the grappling world, she has shown no fear in taking on the striking challenges that MMA presents.

A naturally heavy-handed fighter, Dern seems to generate decent power in her right hand, visibly stunning opponents whenever she lands clean. And though Dern’s durability and skills as a grappler may have got her through portions of her career thus far, she has steadily been sharpening her striking under the care of Jason Parillo.

A striking coach who has helped former champions like B.J. Penn, Michael Bisping, and Cris Cyborg, Parillo appears to be assisting Dern in working out both the rawness and bad habits that exist in her game.

Nevertheless, Dern’s defense still leaves a lot to be desired, as her old habits of ducking her head and lowering guard rear their head whenever she’s under heavy fire. For that reason, I will be curious to see if Dern can successfully close space without running into the slicing clinch game of Hill.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 19: (R-L) Mackenzie Dern secures an arm bar submission against Randa Markos of Iraq in their strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

A place where each fighter seems to find themselves in, I suspect that the clinch will be a key junction in this fight.

Although I would personally advise Dern to stick with takedown attempts in open space, she seems to have a propensity to both crash into and attack from the clinch. Whether she’s trying to snatch up a single or hit a good ole head-and-arm throw, Dern does her best work whenever she can get her opponent against the fence.

But considering the clinch savvy of Hill in said space, Dern’s best chances will likely be in the form of reactive shots that catch her counterpart off guard.

Hill has always been a fan of knees and elbows in closed quarters, but the confidence in her clinch game has hit a new level since she improved her wrestling defense. Now, it is not uncommon to see Hill apply solid defensive fundamentals like they’re second nature.

From educated under-hooks to appropriate whizzer applications, Hill makes it much harder for her opponents to get to her hips at this stage of her career. However, Hill is not beyond being timed off her knees or initiating grappling entanglements of her own – which could be problematic here.

Despite Hill showing improved getups along the fence, Dern is a spectacular grappler in transition that seems to only need one mistake from her opposition in order to close the show in MMA.

Whether she is playing in or out of the gi, Dern has never been afraid to give a little in order to gain a lot. That said, Dern will need to show an ability to both secure and close from dominant positions if she means to keep her reputation in this division.

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

The oddsmakers and the public seem to be favoring the younger fighter, listing Dern -175 and Hill +145 as of this writing.

Considering the kind of matchups Hill has traditionally struggled with, I’m not necessarily shocked to see her installed as the underdog once again.
Hill is also 1-3 in the UFC Apex (as opposed to Dern’s official record of 4-2), which has me ever-so-slightly leaning toward Dern’s side. As I’ve stated before in my analysis, I tend to give an edge to superior submission specialists in the smaller octagon.

When this fight was initially booked for three rounds in the bigger cage, I actually leaned toward Hill to survive the submission scares and score more points down the stretch. But after the switch to the UFC Apex, I believe that the stylistic edge resides with Dern.

Full disclosure: I recorded my breakdown video and prediction before Dern revealed to the media that she’s dealing with a bevy of personal issues that range from fight camp upheaval to a divorce.

I’m not bringing this up to disparage Dern or to pile on to anything she’s already going through, but it definitely doesn’t make me any more confident in my already reluctant pick. Even though my heart will be with Hill, I’ll stick to my initial selection of Dern by second-round submission.

Prediction: Dern inside the distance

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie