This Sunday, while the world is celebrating Mother’s Day, one of jiu-jitsu’s top female fighters is making her debut as a mother: Mackenzie Dern. About a year ago, Mackenzie gave birth to her first daughter, Moa Santos Dern, with her husband Wesley Santos, a professional surfer from Brazil.
Mackenzie was 26 years old when she found out about her pregnancy, a time when Dern was just kickstarting her UFC career, unbeaten in MMA. Moa was a surprise but helped motivate Mackenzie to keep on her path as a fighter.
“She was a big surprise. I didn’t think it could happen that easily [pregnancy]. Reality is, it did make me really think about my career (…) but I did not lose faith. Having been through a six-month lay-off due to injury, with no training, I had experience with a lengthy hiatus, this made me confident I would pull through. At no time did I feel unmotivated or think it will not work. I always kept a positive attitude“, said Mackenzie in an interview with Jiu-Jitsu in Frames YouTube channel and podcast.
“Everybody thought my career was over. ‘Now that she is a mother, she will never fight again’, I felt the other way, more motivated, stronger, more dedicated… The training is never that bad, you know? Sometimes I have a bad day, but it doesn’t bother my daughter and if she is happy, everything is good. I will be back tomorrow and train hard again“.
According to Mackenzie, Moa is a bestie/daughter. She goes to the beach to watch her father surf and also to the gym, to follow her mother’s training. The couple always tries to include Moa in their regular routine to make things easier. 3-month-old Moa was at ADCC 2019 and one month later, at the arena watching Mackenzie’s first fight after the pregnancy.
“I always saw myself being a relatively young mother. Because I never thought of having a child after retirement. I grew up watching my father fighting, I competed at the same tournaments beside him, it was always a very normal thing with us. For this reason, I always wanted my children to watch me fight“, she said.
RETURNING TO THE UFC
Just 4 months after giving birth to Moa, Mackenzie Dern made her return to the octagon. The former jiu-jitsu world champion faced Amanda Ribas in the strawweight division and was defeated for the first time in her MMA career.
Many people tried to find in her motherhood, the reason for her loss, though Mackenzie said this was not an issue. She felt prepared, well trained, and motivated to fight. Moreover, she saw so many positive things on the way to the fight, such as the weight-cut.
“Before my pregnancy, I didn’t make weight [UFC 224], so I had struggled with this in the past and everyone was like: ‘oh she will never hit weight now’. But my pregnancy was crazy because I lost a lot of weight, I only gained 3kg in pregnancy. After that, my weight dropped a lot. I did not diet at all for my fight, I managed to focus on preparing to gain muscle because I had lost a lot of it. But I was really able to focus on the preparation and get back to the rhythm of gaining muscle, getting to press on the gas again after such a lengthy period. So it was good because I didn’t need to suffer from this diet“, she said.
Mackenzie has another fight set for May 23 where she will face Hannah Cifers, following her goal of climbing the strawweight ranking to challenge for the belt – and maybe become the first mother to hold a belt in the UFC.
“I just want to be a Champion-Mom. If I’m the first, great. But just being a champion as a mother would be amazing!“, she said. The underlying thought, beyond being a champion-mom, however, would be to inspire other mothers to follow they’re dreams.
“It is a dream of mine, but I think it can inspire others in that life is not over because you had a child. Not that people think their life sucks, but a lot of people think their lives now are their baby’s. Their life becomes their child’s life, you know? But I don’t think so. We are bringing a child into this world, we really want Moa to see our lifestyle, to see that you can be a whole person, a strong person. You can be anything you want. But if she doesn’t want to be a fighter [in life] that is OK too.” Dern explained, ending the statement going back to her objective with “but winning the belt as a mother, I think it can make a big difference in sports for women“.
LESSONS FROM MOA
Returning to the training room was easy according to Mackenzie, much of the smoothness of this process, however, Dern attributed to her daughter, a child that has been very easy going.
“I have grown a lot [since Moa was born] I have matured. My maturity as an athlete and person after she was born showed me that there are a lot of things that are not so important. Things that I valued a lot, like a bad workout, I thought it was the end of the world for me. Nowadays, if I have a bad day, I’m still focused, everything will be fine. Money is something that I thought about a lot before also, I was always on top of sponsorships. Today, of course, I still do it to an extent, because it is my job (…) but I believe in my work and that what I do will appeal to sponsors. If I do it right, they will come. And I think she brought me closer to God, both Moa, and my husband. Being a mother makes me more mature and is making me a stronger and more dangerous person and athlete“, concluded Kenzie.