LAS VEGAS – Mackenzie Dern has long been expected to accomplish big things in MMA, but on the eve of her first UFC main event, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace is thinking even bigger.
Sure, a strawweight title shot may lie in the not-too-distant future, but Dern thinks she might be capable of even more.
“When I say I’m focusing, I’m really focusing on everything,” Dern told MMA Junkie at Wednesday’s media day at the UFC Apex. “I just changed my manager, my agency, so now I’m with Paradigm, and I’m definitely thinking about the long term, you know, which is totally different than where I was on my UFC debut – just kind of enjoying the hype and enjoying that fun time. Now I’m really thinking about, OK, maybe go up a weight class after and be like a double weight champ, you know? Just constantly new goals, and yeah, it’s good.”
Make no mistake about it, Dern is focused on her run at 115 pounds for the time being. Currently sitting at No. 5 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie strawweight rankings, Dern is probably just one or two fights away from being able to challenge for a title.
But with a current four-fight winning streak, three of which also saw her take home a “Performance of the Night” bonus, Dern says she isn’t in a rush to get to the top but instead believes patience will eventually see her rise to that spot. Right now, it seems Carla Esparza has the inside track to a date with the winner of the UFC 268 clash between champ Rose Namajunas and former titleholder Zhang Weili, but Dern knows her name isn’t far behind.
First up, Dern (11-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) must take out Marina Rodriguez (14-1-2 MMA, 4-1-2 UFC) in the headlining bout of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 194, which takes place at the UFC Apex and streams live on ESPN+.
While both fighters are constantly working to become more well-rounded, it’s clearly a battle of styles with Dern, a grappling wizard, and Rodriguez an accomplished muay Thai stylist. While athletes will often downplay the simplicity of the striker vs. grappler description, Dern admits it’s accurate in this contest.
“I think the beginning of my career in the UFC, that was kind of the time for me to get into these brawls with – you know, we’re all unranked girls,” Dern said. “Now it’s like, ‘OK, now we can’t have a mess up,’ you know? We can’t make a mistake because the top five, the champion, one mistake and it’s over.
“I definitely think that there’s a bigger chance that I can knock her out than her to submit me just because you just need to land one in the right spot to finish. But I’m not going in there to try and show that I can exchange with a girl who’s trained muay Thai most of her life.”
UFC Fight Night 194 free fight: Marina Rodriguez outboxes Michelle Waterson in five-round battle
UFC Fight Night 194 free fight: Mackenzie Dern makes quick work of Nina Nunes
Should she prove victorious on Saturday, Dern believes she’d have a real case for a strawweight title shot, but she’s also not going to force the issue. As she starts to hit her stride in MMA, the multiple-time grappling world champion says she just wants to stay busy and keep racking up wins.
“I really think that if I go in there and put on this, like, exceptional performance, that I can maybe jump Carla and go straight for the belt, but I’m not in a rush,” Dern said. “If I win, but maybe I get hit a couple of times with some things that we could get better, I don’t mind doing another fight instead.
“I don’t know whoever will win, Rose or Zhang Weili, when is the next time they will want to fight. Maybe they just want to fight in June of next year. Hopefully, they don’t get beat up too much, you know? But who knows if they want to fight like in March. My momentum is so good right now. I’ve been in almost a little bit over a year five fights, so that’s what’s good for me is just to keep that momentum going. I don’t want to take too much time off.”
Dern will continue her march up the strawweight ranks for now, but if she rises to the level she believes she can attain, she figures why not try for a little bit of history, as well, and take a shot at unseating dominant women’s flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko?
“I’m working with Rogerio Camoes – he’s making me stronger, just feeling good,” Dern said. “I fought at 125 before, but it was not a very strong Mackenzie. I was kind of like a little bit lazy Mackenzie, like not so professional.
“Definitely just watching Valentina, you know, she’s a long time at the belt. The girls are trying, we’re trying, but I’m like, we need someone to fight her. Maybe a jiu-jitsu girl is the one to beat her. Who knows, you know? But definitely, I can see myself getting to 125, but as a fit Mackenzie, you know? That idea is getting more and more attractive to me, to go in and try and just make history.”
To see the full interview with Dern, check out the video above.
Photos: Mackenzie Dern through the years
view 73 images