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After ‘painful’ transition to MMA, Mackenzie Dern already eyes UFC belt

War Tribe

One of the best grapplers in the world is about to make her transition to mixed martial arts, and it wasn’t an easy one. Multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion, and one-time ADCC winner, Mackenzie Dern decided to jump to the MMA world in 2015, and her first steps at MMA Lab were painful.

"It was hard, and a lot different from my training in jiu-jitsu," Dern told MMA Fighting. "I’m always too emotional during my camps. I’m the type of person that is always worse in training then when I’m competing. I get submitted in training, swept, and everything goes right in the tournaments. I get emotional in my jiu-jitsu camps, and I felt this way in my MMA camp."

Dern makes her MMA debut at Friday’s Legacy FC 58 event in Lake Charles, La, facing fellow newcomer Kenia Rosas. In her early days as a MMA fighter in the gym, Dern thought she would never be able to succeed.

"Wow, I feel like it’s a sore, painful fight every day," she said. "You get punched in the face, kick someone else’s elbows sometimes -- especially me, a beginner. Sometimes I threw a kick or a knee and hit the wrong spot. That’s really hard. You feel your body. I’m not a black belt in MMA yet, I’m a beginner, so it’s hard to be 100 percent confident, but my coaches always remind me that the girl I’m fighting is also a beginner. I train with some of the best fighters in the world in the UFC, so I can’t be frustrated or discouraged because the girl I’m fighting is at the same level. That’s why I’m confident in this fight."

Daughter of jiu-jitsu legend Wellington "Megaton" Dias, "Megatinha" was knocked down a few times in her first training sessions, and a punch to the body was the toughest thing to deal with.

"It was a shock, a surprise," Dern said. "Did I break my nose? When I realized nothing really happened, I started to believe more in myself. It hurts, but not that much. Nothing crazy. I guess the worst punch I took was a punch to the liver. I went down and couldn’t breathe. That hurt more than anything.

"I think that the toughest thing to get used to was getting punched and wanting to strike back, but they would always hit me first. I thought ‘wow, I’m never going to be able to punch someone back,’ but I’m way better now."

Rosas is also 0-0 in professional MMA, but had a few amateur bouts in the past couple years. However, Dern sees her experience in grappling tournaments and competing at the highest level in other sports as an advantage.

"I know she had five amateur fights, so she’s used to getting punched in the face and stuff like that, but the level of competition she’s used to is nowhere near the level I’m used to in grappling and jiu-jitsu tournaments, and the attention around my fights," Dern said. "I’m used to that. You have to do a mental work to get used to it.

"In my first year as a black belt I wasn’t used to it, and what made me so successful last year is that had a good mindset going into it. I’ve been doing this for many years. It will take a long time for her to get to this level of experience. Only time can give you that, so I think that might give me an advantage. Her debut will already bring more pressure than she’s used to."

As a surprise to no one, Dern expects her opponent to avoid a grappling exchange at all costs at Legacy FC 58.

"Based on what I saw, she likes to stay standing and throw front kicks and push kicks. I’m not saying she’s a bit crazy, but her punches are wide, moving forward," Dern said. "It’s no secret that I want to go to the ground, but I have to be careful with the punches. That’s what sucks about MMA. You can dominate the entire fight, but one punch in the right spot and you can go down. So it’s chin down and go for the submission [laughs]."

One of the most decorate female grapplers in history, Dern wants to rise to the top in mixed martial arts as quick as possible. Fighting as a strawweight in MMA, "Megatinha" hopes to become a UFC fighter in 2017 -- and believes that the fact that she always attracted headlines outside of the mats could help her case.

"I’d like to fight three times this year, and God willing sign with the UFC in 2017 to go after the belt," Dern said. "Every MMA fighter wants to be in the UFC. I still want to compete at the jiu-jitsu world championship next year, defend my ADCC title, but I will always put MMA as a priority."

"I think that beauty helps a lot in a marketing standpoint," she continued. "Who doesn’t want to watch a beautiful woman that can also fight? Everybody thinks that a female fighter becomes less feminine eventually, and I feel that people like to see a champion, a warrior, that is still a girl. I know that helps in a marketing standpoint, and several organizations are already looking at me."

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