Mackenzie Dern made a little UFC history on Saturday night. At UFC Vegas, she became the first woman in the promotion’s existence to win a fight via leg lock.
The kneebar submission, in the opening round of her main card fight with Hannah Cifers, earned Dern (8-1) a Performance of the Night bonus. It also marked her return to the win column, after suffering her first defeat last year against Amanda Ribas.
It’s something of a surprise that it’s taken this long for a leg lock to be utilized on the women’s side of things. Women entered the UFC back in 2012, with Ronda Rousey at the forefront. Her arm-bar, of course, became a widely feared weapon.
Maybe Dern’s leg locks will one day be looked at the same way. Speaking with Cageside Press post-fight, the BJJ star — winner of essentially every major jiu-jitsu tournament at the black belt level — expressed surprise at being the first woman to successfully use a leg lock in the UFC. “When they told me, for MMA, women, this is the first leg lock— for us in jiu-jitsu, it’s normal, leg locks. It was always my specialty in the jiu-jitsu world.” In fact, noted Dern, her leg locks were a crowd favorite.
“It feels great, like in jiu-jitsu,” she said, asked whether pulling off the submission gave her the same feeling as it would have in the jiu-jitsu world. “But the fact that they told me it was the first one ever in [UFC] women’s history, it was like ‘wow, okay!’ I’m happy that I’m able to bring my jiu-jitsu talent to the octagon.”
Dern admitted during the UFC Vegas virtual post-fight media scrum that she’s a fighter who excels with a crowd present. Which obviously wasn’t the case at the UFC Apex on Saturday. Still, she said, “I felt good. I was really dialed in, focused.”
“I always fight better when I have the crowd, then when I’m sparring or something like that,” she noted. And so she tried to put herself in that mindset. “In my mind, everyone’s watching.”
UFC President Dana White helped out with a little pre-event speech, added Dern. “Dana [White] told us ‘hey, this is the biggest platform, there’s no other event happening right now. Everyone’s quarantined at home. Now is the time to show why we’re here, why we worked so hard, why we’re going through all these problems.’ So I tried to put on a good show for everyone, for everyone battling the coronavirus and COVID-19.”
Now, Dern’s hoping that a history-making win will afford her a quick turnaround. The strawweight fighter had been vocal, ahead of UFC Vegas, about the promotion seemingly cooling on her following her loss to Ribas last October. Suddenly, the phone stopped ringing. That may very well change now.
“I hope so,” Dern told us Saturday. “If this didn’t work, I don’t know what will.”