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Nolan King

5 biggest takeaways from UFC Fight Night 224: The newest version of Mackenzie Dern is a freaking problem

What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 224 in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …

The newest version of Mackenzie Dern is an absolute problem

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 20: (R-L) Mackenzie Dern faces Angela Hill in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 20, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The Mackenzie Dern who showed up Saturday would be a problem for anyone in the strawweight division.

In the tiresome revolving door universe of random UFC Apex events, sometimes even those who love the sport as much as we do can feel like things are getting a bit mundane.

Dern not only grabbed our attentions Saturday, she skyrocketed her stock to levels not seen previously. She told everyone at Wednesday’s media day that things had changed for her, her evolution as a fighter had finally turned the corner because of her personal life, and that she had figured it all out. Those are things we typically hear from fighters, but aren’t often proven true.

Dern not only backed up everything she said – she may have exceeded her own expectations. She came out guns blazing in every single round, hurling leather with mean intentions. I mean, hell, she even blasted Hill to the canvas with a massive standing knee. The accomplished jiu-jitsu practitioner showed massive physical and technical strides that were catalyzed by perhaps even larger mental ones.

After the fight, Dern put a bow on top of an already A-plus evening with a callout of Rose Namajunas, an opponent that captures the imagination of fight fans, makes sense in the matchmaking department, and would likely push her into title contention.

The spotlight has been on Dern since she emerged on the MMA scene and it’s nice to see that even though there were bumps in the road, the trajectory has been upward from Point A to today.

Chase Hooper showed healthier is happier – and more successful

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 20: (R-L) Chase Hooper punches Nick Fiore in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 20, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Chase Hooper has it figured out. Cutting a tremendous amount of weight doesn’t make sense anymore – if it ever did to begin with.

In his UFC lightweight debut, Hooper looked like a reinvented fighter. He totally outpaced, out-cardio’d, and out-struck Nick Fiore en route to a unanimous decision.

There’s still work to be done, but Hooper was a noticeably different and more imposing fighter in the cage. Despite his move up from featherweight, he still seemed to have a size advantage.

Hooper was 18 when he entered the UFC development program. Youth is beneficial in a lot of ways. But for a young man to also have to deal with the challenges of body changes in addition to learning how to be a professional fighter? That’s a difficult managing game for anyone.

Now grown into his own body, Hooper, who revealed he walked around at 185 pounds during his featherweight days, absolutely made the right call in moving up and that showed in his performance Saturday.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned for all fighters here, not just the youngsters. Hmmm.

Joaquin Buckley has carved out a comfortable roster spot for himself

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 20: (R-L) Joaquin Buckley faces Andre Fialho of Portugal in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 20, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Joaquin Buckley could lose his next four fights and I think the UFC would still have to keep him.

That’s an unusual badge of honor for an unranked fighter to wear, but I think Buckley is sporting that after his head kick TKO of Andre Fialho – if he wasn’t already.

In recent fights, Buckley has done a fantastic job of making sure his legacy wasn’t defined by one kick (as ridiculously spectacular as it was). He’s must-see TV. Whether he wins or loses, you know you’re likely in for a battle and a highlight if you tune into a Buckley fight.

Not everyone is going to be champion, but what makes the UFC product so deep is when you have fantastic supporting acts. Buckley will always be circled on UFC bout orders, and that’s a great attribute for him to have as he continues his career.

P.S. Great post-fight promo asking Logan Paul for a PRIME sponsorship. Shoot your shot, “New Mansa!”

Karolina Kowalkiewicz continues to show the power of making difficult changes.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 20: (L-R) Karolina Kowalkiewicz of Poland punches Vanessa Demopoulos in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 20, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Few invent. Even fewer reinvent.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz has done both.

Once within an arm’s reach of the mountain top, things toppled down for Kowalkiewicz following her UFC title challenge loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 205 in November 2015. She lost six out of eight, including five in a row.

Here she is, nearly eight years later, and she’s on a three-fight winning streak in the UFC. That’s quite the feat, and one she tacks up to her switch to American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla.

It was likely a difficult change at the time, but it was clearly the correct one.

Many fighters try to be loyal and packing up your bags to move across the world and train in a different country can be as daunting as it sounds. But sometimes, a new brain at the control panel can make all the difference. There’s risk, but there’s reward.

Natalia Silva has star potential

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 20: Natalia Silva of Brazil reacst after defeating Victoria Leonardo in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 20, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Hey, UFC powers that be. If it’s not already in the plans, it’s time to put the promotional machine between Brazil’s Natalia Silva.

In the second fight of the night, Silva maximized her opportunity on the prelims when she brutalized Victoria Leonardo for a first-round stoppage and cut a great effort-filled promo (in English). As Twitter user @RumfordJohnny so aptly put it, Silva is like a cross between Claudia Gadelha and Amanda Ribas.

That’s back-to-back stoppages for Silva, who is now 15-5-1. That’s 21 professional fights at age 26 for the mathematically impaired – a.k.a. a lot of experience for her age.

Let’s give her a top-20 opponent next and see what she can do.

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