Facing Amanda Ribas at UFC Tampa, Mackenzie Dern discusses her return fight, motherhood, Maycee Barber and more.
Los Angeles CA — Women’s strawweight Mackenzie Dern will return to the octagon in just a few week’s time, capping off a big year for the highly touted prospect and jiu-jitsu star. Dern made her UFC debut in 2018, winning her first two bouts in the promotion. Then, in February, she announced she was pregnant, and gave birth to daughter Moa this past June.
Just over four months later, she’ll be back in action against Amanda Ribas at UFC Tampa. That, by any yard stick, is an impressive turnaround. One Dern (7-0) pushed hard for, she told Cageside Press this week.
“I’m so excited. I really wanted to fight this soon, after I had Moa,” she said. That plan didn’t sit well with her employer, however. “The UFC kind of didn’t want me to fight so soon, I think it’s the earliest they’ve had, like a comeback after a pregnancy. So they were like ‘what about breast feeding, and the weight cut?’ My last fight, I didn’t make weight, so they said ‘now it’s going to be even harder, give it more time.'”
Dern, however, was having none of it. Plus, her husband, Wesley Santos, is a pro surfer, and the time of year is right for him to help with the baby. “Later, he’ll have more, so now is the time, let’s go! We’re on the final couple weeks [of camp], I’m really excited and feeling great, everything’s going good.”
Like Dad Cerrone, and now Stipe Miocic, Dern is another fighter who has found new motivation following parenthood. Just call her Mom Mackenzie. “Oh yea, for sure. Everyone was telling me it’s going to be way harder, honestly, it’s so much easier. I wake up, and it’s like, you don’t even have to find that motivation. You’re just automatically motivated. You wake up in the morning, you’re motivated. I know why of course, it’s because of her, but I don’t need to find the motivation, I just wake up motivated.”
For Mackenzie Dern, things are easier than before, because it’s no longer about herself. “Before, it was like ‘yeah I want money, but I’ll take the money later. I want to have a vacation now.’ It’s just for me. But now for her, everything is much easier.”
Dern’s daughter is even with her when she’s training. An extra push in the gym perhaps. And she believes the difference will be plain as day. “Definitely people will see, ‘man she’s different.’ I think people can tell. All my followers, they can see how focused I am. My Instagram, I’m posting everything, I can see the fans posting, ‘man she’s different.'”
While the UFC may have had concerns about her weight, it appears they were for nought. “I’m 122 this morning, or yesterday morning,” she said, with plenty of time to go before the fight. “Seven off, I have three weeks left, I’m feeling great. The only thing, because of the breast feeding, it’s so funny, before, people would be like ‘okay, the night before, you’re like half a pound over, sauna sauna sauna.’ Now I’m thinking like ‘okay Moa, come on, you gotta take the milk! Take the milk!'”
Dern is feeling great, and explained that her weight drops with each training session. Plus, the breast feeding does make a difference. “It’s really crazy what our body does. I’m feeling way leaner.” She’s also starting over, in a way. “For sure I lost a lot of muscle during my pregnancy, and I kind of started at zero again. I think that’s what I needed. For my last seven fights I fought fast, like really one after the other. I did seven fights in a year and a half. Every time I would cut weight, I would gain more weight. Gain more, and gain more. That’s what I need, to start off at zero, I gain back my muscle, but cleaner, everything’s cleaner, also I’m leaner and everything.”
Relationship with Fans
Dern notes that she has fans who really want to see her win, and then there’s the detractors who really want to see her fail. “But they’re watching me.”
“They’re still interested. It’s part of the game. I go with it. I try not to block people or anything like that,” she added. “Because it’s open, people are going to say what they want to say.” It’s an interesting approach in an era when fans are closer than ever to athletes, thanks to social media. And it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity.
For Dern, however, “I try to be a good person for my daughter, for my husband. And of course I thank all the fans that are with me with the ups and downs. Everyone that really sees who I am, that’s what’s most important.”
One name that comes up again and again with Dern is fellow LFA alum Maycee Barber. Dern, however, claims she “didn’t even know who she was until she was in the UFC and called me out.”
Barber has contended that Dern ducked her, but “the whole thing about ‘oh we were going to fight’ never came to me, never came to my ear,” said Mackenzie. “I mean if that’s what she wants to believe, hey everyone does things for their own confidence. If she feels like people are running away from there, that’s fine.”
“I want to stay at 115, that’s my plan. Of course, after I win the belt at 115, I would like to go up to 125,” she added. Barber recently made the move up herself. “But my goal is to win the belt at 115 first. Who knows, if she’s champion at 125 and I get the belt at 115, I’ll go and say ‘Hi’ to her.”
It’s Amanda Ribas, not Barber, that Mackenzie Dern is focused on now. It’s Ribas (7-1) she’ll be facing at UFC Tampa. “I think she’s a tough opponent. She’s not someone easy, especially after taking almost one year off. I think it’s a good fight.”
More importantly, it’s a challenge. “The fans, they’re always going to say something, like ‘oh the UFC gives her easy fights,’ this, that. So I was happy they gave me Amanda, because she’s a tough girl. I thought like ‘okay, no one can say anything because she’s a tough girl.'”
“She’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and judo, so I know she’s not going to be so scared of my jiu-jitsu, because she knows what she’s doing too,” Dern continued. “And when you mix it up with punches, then that makes a black belt to a purple belt, when they’re getting punched in the face.”
“I know she has one loss, maybe that makes her more scared to lose, because she doesn’t want to feel that again.” However, Dern pointed out that her own record remains perfect, and she doesn’t want to feel that feeling ever. “Let’s see. Let’s see how it goes. I’m excited for the fight.”
As for how the fight plays out, “I think we’ll end up going to the ground. We’re both ground people,” she suggested.
UFC Tampa (UFC Fight Night 161) takes place October 12, 2019 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.