Mackenzie Dern is not someone who believes in words like “shouldn’t” or “can’t.” Arguably the most famous woman in modern jiu-jitsu, the multiple-time world champion (in both gi and no-gi) has made her mark on the grappling world forever, and now she’s putting in the work to do the same in MMA.
Dern currently has a flawless 4-0 record in mixed martial arts, with two of her fights ending in submissions. But her fighting career hasn’t been without controversy or difficulties; she’s made headlines multiple times for missing weight when fighting at 115 lbs. But when she moved up to 125 lbs to fight Mandy Polk in October, she proved that she could handle herself just fine in a heavier weight class.
“Going to 125 was definitely a little easier to focus on the fight and not [have] to stress so much about the weight,” said Dern. “It was good to finally have a fight where I could have a clear head [and] just do my best.”
Still, Dern says that because she was still on the lighter end of the flyweight division, she feels like competing at 115 will be better for her “in the long run.” She cites figuring out how to maintain her weight for MMA and jiu-jitsu as one of her goals for the immediate future, especially as she looks to advance further and further in her fighting career.
Although Dern’s extremely strong jiu-jitsu background has given her a solid foundation to work from in the cage and made her a lethal force on the ground, she (like many grapplers-turned-fighters before her) has had to spend a lot of time working on her striking game to become a serious MMA contender. “I think the biggest challenge is just to gain the confidence standing up,” she says. “No matter how much I train striking, I’m still always looking to go to the ground, so I think the biggest part is to be comfortable if I can’t take it to the ground.”
The hard work she’s put into her stand-up game became obvious when she landed multiple solid strikes against Polk before submitting her with a rear naked choke, removing any doubt that she could make the transition from a superstar jiu-jitsu athlete to a promising MMA competitor. Dern knows her MMA career is still in its beginning stages, but she’s excited for what the future holds. “It’s fun to have to do something different and to see the progression in MMA and striking. I love jiu-jitsu and the lifestyle I have with jiu-jitsu, but I felt this was a great opportunity to use my jiu-jitsu to accomplish more and help grow our sport more and more.”
It’s probably no surprise that the woman who has held most of the major titles in jiu-jitsu is now setting her sights on becoming a future UFC champion. That’s not to say she’s done with strictly ground-based competition, of course, but when you have the drive for success that Dern does, it’s only natural to want to branch out and aim high. “I accomplished everything I wanted in jiu-jitsu, so anything now will be extra,” she says. “But I love the sport and superfights, and the main competitions I think I will always want to be a part of.”
Whether we next see her on the mats or in the cage, the only thing that’s certain is we’re not even close to seeing the end of Mackenzie Dern’s illustrious martial arts career. She’s putting in the blood and sweat that’s necessary to cement her name in the history books, and she’s ready for whatever comes next. “The goal right now is just to be the best I can be to face whoever they have to offer me.”