Mackenzie Dern improved to 6-0 in MMA with the closest victory of her fighting career on Saturday night, defeating Ashley Yoder via split decision at UFC 222. It represented a lot of different experiences for the grappling wizard.
There was a lot of hype and expectation around Dern going into her Octagon debut, and she knew that most of the fans expected her to get a quick finish at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The stoppage didn’t come, and she thinks that was actually good for her evolution as a mixed martial artist.
“I was happy with my performance, I didn’t think it was bad,” Dern said in Portuguese at the post-fight press conference. “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.”
Dern and Yoder only grappled in the last minutes of the fight, when Dern went for a takedown, took her opponent’s back, and worked for a rear-naked choke.
“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.”
One of the new experiences Dern had was getting knocked down for the first time in a MMA bout.
“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.”
When Bruce Buffer started to announce the decision, Dern felt a little nervous. Dern had asked her coaches after the opening round who had won those five minutes, and said that she had it 10-9. When the second round was over, Dern’s coaches told her that was Yoder’s round. After the last five minutes, Dern didn’t ask for her coaches’ scores, and hearing that Adalaide Byrd gave it to Yoder was a little scary.
“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.”
Dern won via split decision, with judges Derek Cleary and Junichiro Kamijo scoring it 29-28 in her favor, giving Dern her third decision victory in MMA. The UFC has yet to decide Dern’s next move in the company, but the strawweight talent is targeting the upcoming UFC 224 card in Rio de Janeiro on May 24.
“I don’t want the fast track to the top of the division, but I definitely wanna fight soon again,” Dern said. “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.”