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Mackenzie Dern: UFC win showed me ‘I was meant to be there’

Mackenzie Dern has arrived.

Dern, one of the greatest competitors in women’s jiu-jitsu history, successfully debuted in the UFC on Saturday night, defeating Ashley Yoder via split decision at UFC 222. After years of competition in high level jiu-jitsu, Dern says she didn’t feel that nervous entering the Octagon for the first time.

”I swear, it felt so normal. I was so relaxed,” Dern told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I didn’t even hear people [screaming]. I felt Bruce (Buffer) was talking to me, when he was saying my name, but I was just looking at Ashley, trying to focus on what I wanted to do. I felt like I was meant to be there. Didn’t feel any nervous at all, like UFC jitters. It felt great to be there.”

Dern still hasn’t watched the fight, but plans on doing it to evaluate her performance and what she needs to work on going forward. Dern’s father Wellington “Megaton” Dias, a Brazilian icon in the jiu-jitsu circuit, watched the fight from start to finish, but wasn’t in Las Vegas to support his daughter.

”He’s a little scared, ‘oh, that was scary,’ but he’s happy about it,” Dern said with a laugh. “He’s waiting for me to go back to Arizona to see him. That’s the whole thing. People ask me about him, but he’s been my coach for so many years, we really just want to preserve the relationship of father and daughter.

”My whole weight cut, you kind of tripping out a little bit, so many saunas, you say things you don’t really know what you’re saying, and to see me go to a fight where maybe I get knocked down and have to fight out of it, I don’t know if a father wants to see that all the time. I think it was good that he saw it from his couch, with my family there, with the dogs.”

Dias is a proud father, but Dern admits that he has tried to convince her to return to jiu-jitsu mats.

”He supports me, but he’d be like ‘you should go compete in jiu-jitsu next month,’” Dern said. “He’s always trying to give little clues to get me to stay in jiu-jitsu. I say ‘Dad, I have a MMA fight coming up,’ and he says ‘ah, OK.’ He definitely doesn’t want to see his daughter getting punched.”

The strawweight prospect improved to 6-0 with the decision victory, and was close to getting the submission with seconds left in the final round. Yoder was able to survive the rear-naked choke, and Dern explains why she thought she would be able to get the tap despite the fact that Yoder had her chin down to defend from the rear-naked choke attempt.

”A lot of people tell me about that, ‘oh, it’s on the chin.’ From all the chokes I do, we have the air choke and we have the blood choke,” Dern said. “The air choke is what they defend it putting the chin down. My fight with Mandy Polk at 125, she had her chin down, but with Ashley I could feel I was squeezing on the side, so I felt that she was breathing but I was feeling more that she would pass out then be out of breath, to cut the blood and they fall asleep, you know?

”There are two different types of chokes, one that people can’t breathe and the ones than they don’t feel it and they pass out. It was really tight, I was squeezing more on the side. But she was able to release the pressure. But it was a good fight.”

Entering the Octagon for the first time, experiencing what it feels like to fight in the UFC, and going back home with another victory. It was a great week for Dern in Las Vegas, and proved to her that she has made the right call.

”I felt like I was meant to be there,” Dern said. “I know that each fight I’m gonna be a better fighter, really enforced like, yeah, this is what I’m meant to do. I made the right decision to stop jiu-jitsu now and focus on this, and I’m excited for the next fight. Hopefully I can be at UFC in Rio (on May 12). I’m ready to get this black eye away and get back to training.”

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