By Lisa Sabatini
After making her debut at the Pan-Ams this year as a brown belt, Mackenzie Dern has already racked up some serious gold on the competitive grappling circuit. Dern is a 5x World Champion. Training Jiu Jitsu since the age of 3, Dern is the prodigy of her father and leader of Team Megaton, Wellington “Megaton” Dias.
Dern lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona at Team Megaton with her black belt father, black belt stepmother Luciana Tavares, and black belt boyfriend Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes. The nineteen-year-old, Dern, has already defeated some world class black belts in competition.
Competing as a featherweight under the Gracie Humaita banner, Dern’s dedication to the sport shines like gold everytime she steps on the mat.
Grapplers Planet reporter, Lisa Sabatini, spoke with the multiple time World Champion, Mackenzie Dern, about her recent achievements and plans for the upcoming 2012 IBJJF World Championships.
How is competition different now that you’re competing as a Brown Belt?
“Well since they split the brown and black belt division (for women), I mean I’m glad that they want to split them, but I think it’s still early. A lot of the tournaments I’ve done, like the European and the Pan Ams I had only one fight. They were basically girls that I have fought already in the Purple belts (divisions). I’m still kinda competing against the same girls.
I got to fight the Copa Bella, that was Brown and Black (mixed belt divisions) and the Abu Dhabi World Pro, there I fought all black belts. So it’s good. It’s a good experience. It’s basically my learning time. I’m glad I get to feel the energy of the girls and what the technique is like at black belt. When I compete against them all the time, I will already be prepared. I still wish they were together, Brown and Black belt.
I prefer it that way, the brown and black belts together. It’s a year for the brown belts to gain experience, you know, you have nothing to lose. If you lose to a black belt or if you beat a black belt, it looks good for you. The brown belt categories are still pretty small now, but hopefully they keep growing.
I mean some people who are black belts are black belts for years and years, not like they just turned black belt. So if you’re brown and black belt (division) you have time competing against them, you start to know their game. I think it’s more of an ease into the harder division.”
What was the Abu Dhabi World Pro like for you this year? It was your first time there as a brown belt.
“The World Pro for me was a good experience, I just fought black belts. My first fight was against a black belt from Japan. It’s different ‘cause it’s 6 minutes, so you don’t want to risk too much because usually the first person who gets the points wins the fight. I caught her back and caught a triangle but I wasn’t able to finish. Japanese girls are tough! They don’t tap for anything. They have that samurai spirit.
Then after I fought Marina Ribeiro, who beat Kyra (Gracie) and Leticia (Ribeiro) at the Europeans last year. She has a really good guard too, that’s how she beat Leticia and Kyra, was playing guard with them. So I pulled guard first so it was her trying to pass and me trying to sweep. I attacked with triangles and a leg lock again and then I won by judges decision. That was a really close match. It was really nice to see how her energy is and the top black belts, you know.
Then after that I fought Kyra (Gracie) and I’ve known her since I was like 7 years old and it was nice that finally we are competing against each other. I felt like she respected me and I have a lot of respect for her. She ended up beating me 11 or like 15 to 0 (points). Laughs. She definitely showed me, ‘be ready for black belt’, you know. I know where I made mistakes in the fight. She didn’t do anything that I haven’t seen before or anything that I’m not used to. It was just black belts are so…like any mistake you make, there’s so much experience. They catch the mistakes faster. It was good to fight her now, and then next time hopefully I can go in and do better in the fight. Make less mistakes.
You won gold in the very first Copa Bela (all female grappling tournament) in April and fought some tough black belts there, how was it?
“Ya, I fought Sophia Drysdale. It was a good turnout for the first one (first event) It was good to fight against Sophia, you know she just had her baby I think last year, it’s good to see her back competing. I fought against Tracey Goodell too. Tracey had beat me at blue belt, so it was good to fight her again.
Sophia, I won by a toe hold. It was good because you can do Toe Holds at Brown and Black belt, I’m starting to get used to those positions. It was also a tough fight.
Tracey, she has a really good guard, so I wanted to play guard with her and not be in her guard as much as I could. It was 10 minutes because it’s black belt too. It was good to go the whole 10 minutes, just to see how I’m breathing and to see how I’m handling the 10 minute matches. With Tracey I won by 5 advantages for some sweeps and leg lock and triangle attempts.
What are you expecting for Worlds this year?
“It’s hard to know until you’re there, you know. It’s going to be my 6th year competing at Worlds, so I hope I can keep winning.
Usually about a month before the big tournaments I go to San Diego and train with Leticia (Ribeiro) because there’s a whole bunch of girls from all over the U.S. and we have a Gracie Humaita girls team training. This year I’m not going to go that much. I’ll go for three days out of the week and then go back to Arizona. I’ll just go back and forth, I’m not going to stay there the whole month. My boyfriend’s (Tanquinho) team Soulfighters will have a Soulfighters camp here in Arizona, so I’m going to be training with them too. A lot of the students from Brazil will come to Arizona to do training too.
Basically me going to San Diego will be to get my training in with the girls because there are so many girls out there. Before the tournament, you really need to train with girls because it’s more realistic. It’s good to train with guys because you get used to the strength, but it’s much more realistic to train with girls. They’re so much more flexible. You have to get used to different positions. Girls do a lot more closed guard and guys use different positions.”
Angelica Galvao was recently promoted to Brown belt as well. Have you ever competed against her?
“I’ve never competed against her, but before the Worlds last year in 2011, she was training with the girls from Gracie Humaita. She’s good friends with Leticia (Ribeiro). So, I trained a lot with her because we were in different categories. We trained together a lot and she’s tough.
Sooner than later you will cross paths, Angelica has been winning her own weight division, but you both fight Absolutes. What do you think will happen in a match up between you two?
“Now she’s a brown belt, I think she’s going to do good. She’s a really good friend of mine, you know, so if I meet up with her in the absolutes it’ll be a good fight and whoever wins, wins. I hope I don’t fight with Angelica in the first round, since we’re good friends. Either way, we’re still friends no matter what.”
Keep an eye out for Mackenzie Dern this year at the 2012 IBJJF Worlds May 31 to June 3 in California as she looks to win her 6th Worlds gold.