Mackenzie Dern spoke about her Friday night Invicta debut, as well as how expectations have made things a little more difficult in her fledgling MMA career.
Mackenzie Dern remained a perfect 4-0 thanks to her first-round submission victory over Mandy Polk in October. It was the 24-year old’s second submission win in her young pro MMA career. The Brazilian-American risks that perfect record this Friday when she takes on Kaline Medeiros (8-5) at Invicta FC 26.
Dern’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu credentials rank among the most impressive of any grappler to enter the world of professional MMA. The black-belt has gold medals from the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship, World Jiu Jitsu Championship, Nogi Jiu-Jitsu Championship, Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship, and World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Cup.
However, against Polk it was Dern’s striking — not ground-game — that earned headlines.
Though she won the fight via a rear-naked choke, the beginning of the end came when she dropped Volk to the canvas with a flurry of punches. Only then, with Polk dazed, did Dern take her back and sink in the RNC.
Dern’s ability to sit down an opponent with her punching power was a surprise to many, including Dern herself. “I train with such good people and never in training have I ever knocked anyone down,” revealed Dern with a laugh. “I’m like a white belt to all my sparring partners. So it was good to see that, after training hard, I really am progressing.”
Dern said this last fight was evidence that she had come a long way in her MMA journey. In her second pro-fight, while in side control, she needed to be reminded by her coaches that she could throw punches.
“I think I’m getting more comfortable standing,” said Dern of her two year development in MMA. “I think that’s the biggest improvement for me. That and not being scared of getting punched; being able to bite down on the mouthpiece and commit.”
Dern is sure that her upcoming opponent will be happy to test her willingness to be punched. Kaline ‘The Dark Angel’ Medeiros’ last fight was for the Invicta strawweight title vs. Angela Hill. Though Medeiros lost that fight, she demonstrated how comfortable she was coming forwards and trading shots.
“For sure I think that Kaline is my biggest challenge yet,” said Dern. “She has a lot of experience fighting top level fighters. From what I know, she is good all around. I don’t think this is a little step-up for me. This is a big step-up, but I want to get to the UFC, so sometimes you have to do those big jumps.”
Despite having respect for the veteran savvy and grit she expects Medeiros to bring to the cage, Dern is confident of getting a win on Friday night. And she thinks, just like she did versus Polk, she could surprise people with her striking.
“I think that for sure, my ground game is better [than Medeiros’], but that won’t be a surprise to anyone because I come from jiu-jitsu, but maybe I’ll surprise her with how hard I hit. I don’t really look like I hit too hard, so I think if I connect with some punches maybe it will surprise her. But from what I’ve seen; she’s a tough girl and she’ll keep coming forward no matter what.”
The fight with Medeiros will be at 115lbs. It’s a weight Dern has fought at before, but never comfortably. Her last fight was at flyweight, but after consulting with coaches and management, Dern has decided that the UFC’s strawweight division is where she can be most successful. In order to fight at 115lbs in the UFC, Dern said, she has to prove she can do it outside of the UFC.
According to Dern this current weight cut has been far more manageable than previous cuts to 115lbs. She said part of this is due to experience, but it’s also helped by the fact she fought so recently and has thus been walking around in fighting-shape.
With the weight-cut seemingly under control and a beatable, albeit tough, opponent ahead of her, Dern stands a good chance of being one of the stand-out performers at Invicta FC 26. This would allow her to live up — somewhat — to the amount of hype that has been generated around her career so far.
Think-pieces across MMA media have suggested Dern could be ‘the next Ronda Rousey.’ At the very least, Dern is expected to have a solid fighting career in the sport’s grandest promotion. When asked whether this sort of fanfare and attention was welcome, Dern took a moment to think.
“I just think it’s a little bit unrealistic,” she said, after a while.
Dern continued to state that the attention has been a little unhelpful during this stage of her career. According to her, it has made finding opponents a little more challenging. She also said her well-known BJJ background may have forced her opponent’s to fight her more conservatively, which she believes isn’t helpful considering the challenges that are ahead.
“I don’t think girls were as aggressive with me as they would have been if I were unknown,” she said. “They were concerned more about the defense. And I know for sure in the UFC, the girls there, they don’t care; they’re going to try and beat me up. So I feel like, for me to get better, all the attention made it a little harder for me.”
“But I don’t really think about it too much; If people think that I’m so good or they think that I’m so bad,” added Dern. “I just try and think about what’s the best for me. I’ve done so much with jiu-jitsu. So I’m glad to take that attention with me to MMA, but for sure I want to be able to build my own story in MMA, with my own accomplishments as not just a jiu-jitsu fighter, but an all round MMA fighter, too.”
Mackenzie’s fifth appearance as an ‘all around MMA fighter’ is set for Friday night’s Invicta FC 26. You can watch her take on Medeiros, as well as Vanessa Porto vs. Milana Dudieva and Jennifer Maia vs. Aga Niedzwiedz, exclusively live on UFC Fight Pass beginning at 8PM ET.