One of the UFC’s hottest prospects, Mackenzie Dern, made her octagon debut at UFC 222 and emerged with her undefeated record intact. The fight wasn’t all one way traffic and served as a timely reminder for anyone getting carried away that Dern still has a way to go before she can be considered the finished article. Her opponent, Ashley Yoder, put up plenty of resistance in a largely stand up battle which surprised many given Dern’s Jiu Jitsu pedigree. Ultimately, Dern did enough to earn herself a split decision victory, and will now begin her climb towards the top 15 of the UFC strawweight rankings.
Speaking at the post fight press conference, Dern was pleased with how the fight went and was glad of the opportunity to show she’s a lot more than just a Jiu Jitsu maestro.
“I was happy with my performance, I didn’t think it was bad,” Dern said in Portuguese. “I know that everybody wants me to submit quickly, but I’m here to show that I’m a complete athlete, to trade standing and go to the ground.”
While the majority of the fight was spent on the feet, in the final minutes of the third round Dern took the fight to the mat in an effort to keep it out of the judges hands.
“I think that when I decided ‘okay, I want to take her to the ground,’ I was able to take her and get her back and get the choke in,” Dern said. “I think that the important part is knowing the risks I was taking, and having my chin down, see the punches coming. She was a southpaw and was taller than me, so that’s a distance I’m still not used to yet.”
“I can take a lot of things from this fight to get better, but I think it was important to feel those three rounds in the UFC. I don’t want to get to the belt without ever going to a second or third round, without ever being in trouble in a fight, without ever being knocked down and being scared. I think it was a good experience to feel that now and gain that confidence standing.”
In addition to experiencing the bright lights of the UFC stage for the first time, Dern also found herself knocked to the ground for the first time in her MMA career. It was a real test of the 24-year old’s ability to weather the storm and an experience which she believes should serve her well as her career develops.
“I’ve been knocked down in training before, but my coaches always say that the punch that hurts is the punch that you don’t see coming, and this one I really didn’t see coming,” Dern said. “When I realized I was already on the ground, in my mind I was like ‘get up, get up because you’re in the fight,’ so I got back up.”
“I didn’t get scared or anything like that,” she continued. “I recovered quickly, but that’s experience, that’s part of the fight. I tried to knock her out as well and the fight went that way, but I think it was a good experience. It’s better to feel that now instead of getting to the title without ever experiencing anything like that.”
Dern admitted to feeling the pressure a little when it came time for Bruce Buffer to announce the judges decision. Particularly when he opened by announcing that the first judge had scored the bout in favour of her opponent. It wasn’t an experience that she is eager to have a second time.
“I ended the fight on her back, I thought she was going to tap, the choke was in, she was breathing hard, so I thought it was going to be 2-1 for me,” Dern said, “But when they started to announce the split decision I got a little nervous, but I knew it could be anything in the judges’ eyes. I’m ready for that, but, of course, I don’t want to leave it in the hands of the judges ever again.”
With no injuries aside from a few bumps and bruises, Dern is eager to get back in the octagon as soon as possible and sees UFC 224 in Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil as the perfect opportunity to build on her first win in the UFC.
“I’m all about fighting. I think the next person I fight will bring me different challenges. I think that that’s what I need to show the type of fighter I want to become.”
“I don’t think think they are going to put me on a fast track to go to the title because I think I can help the UFC just as much as they can help me, you know? I think for sure they don’t wanna make bad matchups. I think I showed I have a lot of heart, I don’t mind (fighting) standing up or going to the ground, so I think they’ll take their time, but I’m ready to fight. I wanna fight again in May, Brazil.”
With UFC 224 set to take place in around 10 weeks time, there is plenty of opportunity for Dern to recover and get back to training, ready to put the lessons learned against Yoder into practice against her next opponent.
Assuming the UFC take their time and allow Dern to develop naturally, she has all the tools and potential to be a big star in the strawweight division for many years to come.