Mackenzie Dern was born to martial arts royalty. Her father, Wellington “Megaton” Dias, was the most dominant jiu-jitsu pracitioner in the 1990s and started bringing his daughter to his gyms when she was 3 years old.
Instead of being like most children, who go outside with friends or play local recreational sports, the young Dern started to follow her famous father’s path.
“I started jiu-jitsu because my dad has had an academy since I was born,” Dern, 23, told Sporting News. “He’s a black belt. Since I was 3, I had my first Gi and he would take me to the academy, showing me little drills. … I would just watch his classes. Then, I had my first tournament when I was 6 years old and stayed with it ever since. But, it has always been a lifestyle for me.”
Dern has accomplished everything there is to do in the jiu-jitsu world. She’s won every major competition from the ADCC World Submission Grappling tournament to the Brazilian World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. When she started competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments, Dern would go up against the boys and ended up beating all of them.
The talent was obvious.
“I noticed for the boys it was a hobby, but for me it was more serious. At 9 or 9 years old, I noticed I was starting to submit boys really fast,” she said. “… By 14, when I won my first world championship and I won all my fights by submission, (I realized) I have something for this.”
Doing all she could do in the world of jiu-jitsu, it only seemed like a matter of time before Dern ventured into mixed martial arts. The jiu-jitsu ace finally made the move in 2016. Dern’s had two fights in the cage for the promotion that at the time was known as Legacy Fighting Championships. The company merged with RFA and is now known as LFA.
Dern made her first appearance of 2017 when she earned a unanimous decision win (30-27 30-27 29-28) over Katherine Roy in a catchweight bout of 120 pounds. If you thought she was in it for the long haul, think again. Dern wants to get in, get out and go on with the rest of her life.
“I don’t want to be like Miesha Tate and doing this for like 15 years. I can’t handle getting punched in the face for that long,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I don’t want to get burnt out. I want to have a family and babies one day. I’m young.”
Ronda Rousey put women’s mixed martial arts on the map. Without her, it’s unlikely women would have fought on big league shows. Before Rousey entered the sport, she was a judo wizard who ended up winning a bronze medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics to become the first American woman to medal in the sport.
Dern now has three wins, with one via submission. The goal for her is to be the biggest female fighter in the history of the sport. While she respects what Rousey did before her, she plans on knocking that door down and becoming bigger than Rousey ever was.
“I definitely think her personality is very strong,” Dern said. “I think that a lot of her fights she had the intimidation factor. Of course, she’s a great athlete. It was a very big advantage for her too. She’s very intimidating and going aggressive. Not that the girls were scared of her, but it’s like if she got your arm, maybe they were like ‘Oh, shoot, she gets everyone’s arm. No way, I’m going to get out.’
“With me it’s different. I don’t think people are so intimidated by me. I’m always smiling to everyone. I’m not the scariest person. I don’t know if I’ll have so many submissions or finish fights in 15 seconds. I definitely think there is only one Ronda Rousey, but I think I have everything to be as big and bigger than what she has done. … I hope to do even more and add to everything she’s done, but with my own style, my own personality, my own flavor.”
Last year, Dern had talks with the UFC. She wanted to get her feet wet before she made the jump to the world’s premiere MMA organization. While she isn’t in the UFC yet, Dern plans on doing a couple of different jiu-jitsu tournaments and vows to make her octagon debut in the latter half of 2017.
“In the UFC, for sure,” Dern said. “Maybe one or two fights. My goal is to stop jiu-jitsu at the worlds this year and just do the ADCC (defending champion), which is every two years. I’d like to defend my title at the ADCC in September. … It all just depends when we decide to go to the UFC.”
Steven Muehlhausen is an MMA and boxing writer and contributor for Sporting News. You can find his podcast, “The Fight Club Chicago,” and subscribe on iTunes. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and can find him on Twitter @SMuehlhausenMMA.