UFC fighter Mackenzie Dern has no reservations about calling herself the ‘Super Mom’. In her brief Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) career, the Jiu-Jitsu practitioner has endured troubles with technique, pregnancy and a bloodied nose.
In December 2020, Mackenzie’s nose was battered mid-fight during her clash with Virna Jandiroba at UFC 256. The Brazilian-American mounted a comeback and eked out a unanimous win after the third round. It was soon followed by her second UFC defeat in her main event debut. On Sunday, Mackenzie, ranked fifth in the strawweight division, will have another chance to set the record straight when she takes on sixth-ranked Yan Xiaonan in the main event of UFC Fight Night 211.
With five wins in her last six bouts, Mackenzie has momentum on her side.
“It’s good to have that. The more you win, the more confident you become. Of course, the losses teach you a lot too. My last loss (against Marina Rodriguez, UFC Vegas 39) was my first main event. I am so happy to be having a shot at redemption. I'll try to get that win back,” she told Sportstar.
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Her opponent Yan, 33, also built up an impressive record in the circuit before faltering in the last two bouts. Yan, the first Chinese woman recruit of the UFC, has won six successive bouts since her debut in 2017 and remains in the tussle for the division belt. The 29-year-old Mackenzie realises the challenge and the potential magnitude of a win this weekend. “A lot of people actually don’t realise how important this fight is for both of us in the strawweight division. We are like five and six on the ranks, so we are close to the belt. I think a dominant win for either of us could give us a fight against a former champion or for the belt. So that’s one thing that makes this fight so special to watch.”
Mackenzie, who has shaped her game around Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, said she struggled to realise the nuances of MMA fighting during her early days in the UFC. Pregnancy in 2019 made it all the more difficult. “Before I was pregnant, I had two fights in the UFC and I didn’t make weight for my second fight. I had a phase in my career where I really did not understand how to cut weight the way they do to make weight and be strong to fight. I was having a really hard time trying to fit into UFC and MMA because I came from a jiu-jitsu background.
‘Dream and passion’
Despite being written off by many after giving birth to her daughter Moa in 2019, Mackenzie realised an uptick in her UFC career upon return.
“When I had my daughter, I knew I wanted to come back because many fans stopped supporting me and said ‘She is never going to come back. She will never be a champion.’ This is my dream and my passion and I wanted to give my daughter an example to chase her dreams.
“I came back when she was four months old. I used to breastfeed and go to fight. I felt like a superwoman (laughs). To do it at the highest level of MMA was crazy. I lost the fight but it was good. My daughter helped me focus and be strong to win and make my money. I fought again when she was nine months old. Then came the pandemic and she couldn’t come to my fights. But at nine months, when I stopped breastfeeding, she made my body leaner. I became skinny. I had shed all my fat and muscle and my body kind of started from zero. I had to basically build a new Mackenzie,” she said.
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Mackenzie is finally relieved of the pressure of wanting to spend concerted time with her three-year-old. “Now I don't feel bad to leave her with my mom or grandmother. It is okay to be Mackenzie the fighter for 15-25 minutes,” she quipped.
Mackenzie (12-2-0), reflecting on her nine-bout UFC career, said her advancing striking has made her a better fighter. “I used to be comfortable striking but I didn’t really understand what I was doing… blah, blah just throwing punches until hopefully, something landed. Now I really understand my fights. I am able to use my Jiu-Jitsu background to set things up and fake movements. I have evolved as a striker and that’s really important in building an all-round fighter to become the champion,” Mackenzie said.
Mackenzie is supreme in terms of her submission skills in her division and credits her jiu-jitsu background for the same. She ranks second in terms of the most submission wins among all women and the highest (four) in the strawweight class.
“I think Jiu-Jitsu is the No. 1 martial art for MMA. UFC 1 was all about Royce Gracie (pioneer of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Of course, fighters are a lot more well-rounded now but half of the fight is on the ground. If you are out to the ground, it is important to know how to at least defend yourself or get back to the cage and stand back up. There are a lot of strikers in MMA but not a lot of quality jiu-jitsu practitioners. If fighters with a jiu-jitsu background can get better at striking, that will put them way ahead of the others,” she remarked.