Contrary to what many believed after the black belt announced her pregnancy, Mackenzie’s career is not over. Dern fell short in her first fight after giving birth to Moa, a loss to Amanda Ribas by unanimous decision back in October 2019 at the UFC Fight Night 161, a result that raised a lot of doubt regarding Dern’s potential by the specialized media. That doubt has been put to rest with her 2020 performances.
The MMA strawweight never quit. Last weekend, Mackenzie defeated Randa Markos at UFC Fight Night 178, with an armbar in the first round. It was Dern’s second consecutive win, as well as her second Performance of the Night bonus – in a row.
During her post-fight comments a super motivated Mackenzie told Jiu-Jitsu in Frames YouTube channel and podcast: “It was my second bonus in a row, so I really went into the fight looking for that bonus“.
Mackenzie Dern joined the UFC in January 2018. Before that, she was undefeated in MMA (5-0) though she was not as active as we had seen her during her jiu-jitsu career. Two months later, she made her debut with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, defeating Ashley Yoder by unanimous decision in the strawweight division.
Two months later, Mackenzie returned to the UFC octagon to face Amanda Cooper, which had her facing other issues, more specifically, her diet as she did not make the weight, showing up 3,2kg above the strawweight limit. As a penalty, Dern lost 30% of the paycheck, though still showing her excellence on the cage going on to win via first-round RNC.
After a few months away from public attention, ‘Kenzie announced her pregnancy via social media, in February 2019. Was it the end of the black belt’s career?
Only four months after giving birth, Mackenzie Dern came back to the octagon at UFC Tampa to face the Brazilian Amanda Ribas, a complete MMA fight, jiu-jitsu black belt, with a terrifying ground and pound game to boot. The fight ended with a unanimous decision for Ribas and the first MMA loss to Dern.
In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC was forced to have a break and reassess its situation. When it returned, Mackenzie was booked against Hannah Cifers at UFC on ESPN 9. Hannah was coming off defeat to Angela Hill in January 2020 and both athletes needed a win to ‘stay safe’ in the eyes of UFC president, Dana White.
With the gyms closed, Mackenzie was training mostly by herself and without the support of many teammates, yet, in May 2020, she put on a show against Cifers, winning by kneebar in the first round, staying above water in the strawweight division and earning her first Performance of the Night bonus.
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Neste sábado (30), @mackenziedern enfrenta Hannah Cifers no UFC Fight Night: Woodley vs. Burns, na categoria peso palha. Mackenzie vem de uma derrota para Amanda Ribas em outubro de 2019 bem como a adversária, que foi derrotada por Angela Hill em janeiro deste ano. Será que o jiu-jitsu vai prevalecer? Go, Kenzie! #jiujitsuinframes #jiujitsu #bjj #jiujitsufeminino #UFC #MMA #ufcfightnight #bjjlifestyle #bjjgirls #bjjgirlsmag
Last weekend, Mackenzie faced off the tough Randa Markos, showing up in one of the best shape of her fighting career. Mackenzie came ready. She had an almost a fatal error in the beginning of the fight, when she slipped while trying to kick her opponent, but nothing would detour Dern from her goal. Working from her back, she attempted a triangle choke, transitioned to an omoplata sweep, and went on to submit Markos via armbar – with one leg stuck in her opponent’s half guard.
“Jiu-jitsu is like chess. You make a move and you have a lot of options. I had her arm very tight. I just didn’t want to lose her elbow, but I had to find the lever. A lot of times I was very tight and she moved one centimeter and relieved the pressure (…) I didn’t even notice that my foot was stuck, I wasn’t thinking about my foot. I was thinking about the right angle to the elbow. I threw some hammer-fists to get her to react and it worked“, Mackenzie said on her Jiu-Jitsu in Frames interview.
Mackenzie struggled to make the weight in the past. She was criticized multiple times not only for her weight but also for her lackluster performances, such as her showing at the 2017 ADCC, when she was defeated by Elvira Karppinen. Many believed she had lost her focus.
After she went through a “yo-yo effect” with her metabolism, Dern adapted. Currently, she claims to be training with the same weight that she is competing at – removing that concern from her fight camp. In her interview Mackenzie related this newfound focus to motherhood.
“I think that, nowadays, I’m more focused, more professional as an athlete. Before [motherhood] I fought, I was professional, but I was a fighter with a girl lifestyle. I traveled a lot, went to parties, you know? I was relaxing and when I had a fight, I came back to training. Today, I have a family, it’s not only me (…) it’s my daughter, my husband, we want to buy a house and build a life“, she said.
“When a fight ended, I came back to the gym even without a fight on the horizon, and I saw the results. I thought: ‘Wow, I’m training without a goal but I still have results’. And I see what it is to be professional, dedicated, focused. When you see the results you want more and more. I’m more focused because of my daughter. During the training, I saw that my weight was low, I fought with 54,2kg. I gained little weight after the fight. I’m training close to the weight I’m competing“.
She completed her argument saying that she doesn’t feel a difference between training and the fight, she recognizes she only needs more muscle mass.
And about her hiatus during the pregnancy, she said: “That one year [of motherhood leave] really put me ahead and helped my career“.
Amid the many things happening in Dern’s professional life, currently on her sight is the obtainable goal of beating the current UFC record for most submissions in the female strawweight division. Currently Mackenzie is at a draw with former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas – 3 submissions a piece. Cynthia Calvillo has the same, but has since moved from strawweight to flyweight division.
“I know that in each fight, it will be harder. I’m at a draw, I need one more to pass [Namajunas] and for sure, I will have many more ahead. I believe that it will be one more record I will break“, said Mackenzie.
We are used to watching Mackenzie in action since forever, but remember: she is still 27 years old, just at the start of her MMA career. A fight for the belt will be on the horizon for Mackenzie, but wait, she is ranked 14. Be patient!