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Mackenzie Dern reflects on first MMA loss at UFC Tampa: ‘It only makes me hungrier’

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Mackenzie Dern (pictured) lost a decision to Amanda Ribas at UFC Tampa in Florida.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Mackenzie Dern is no longer undefeated as an MMA fighter, and she expects good things to come with that.

Back to Brazil after dropping a decision to Brazilian strawweight prospect Amanda Ribas last Saturday at UFC Tampa, the jiu-jitsu specialist opened up about losing for the first time in MMA, whether or not she should have fought just four months after the birth of her daughter Moa, and how she expects to change as an athlete going forward.

“It only makes me hungrier to get back in there,” Dern told MMA Fighting on how it felt to lose. “You’re a bit worried when you’re undefeated, (thinking) ‘is this opponent a good fight for me,’ thinking about strategies and whatnot. And now, after you have your first loss, you just want to get in there and fight and take risks.

“A fight shows up and I’m training, let’s do it. I’ll fight on short notice. I feel like I can fight better now. I’m hungrier to fight all the time. I want to get in there and do my best and continue to evolve as an athlete and as a fighter. To always choose fights that your coaches think are good for you is good, but being a fighter that fights any type of opponent is tougher. That’s life. You have wins, you have losses, but the plan remains the same: climb the rankings and win the belt. Nothing has changed.”

Even though Dern sees a benefit in changing her mindset after suffering her first defeat, she misses being undefeated.

“It felt so good,” she said with a laugh. “It was so cute to see that zero there, but it’s part of the sport, you know? I’ve lost many times in my jiu-jitsu career before winning all my titles, so it only makes you hungrier.”

Dern conquered every major title in jiu-jitsu and submission before making her transition to MMA, including an unforgettable year in 2015 when she won titles at the IBJJF World Championship (gi and no-gi), an ADCC gold medal, and defeated heavyweight grappler Gabi Garcia in Abu Dhabi.

Indeed, Dern has suffered losses in grappling, even after that remarkable run. But losing in MMA is a bit different.

“It hurts the same way,” Dern said. “We have less fights (in MMA), three or four times in a year, whereas in jiu-jitsu you can have three tournaments in a month, so you kind of get used to losing, because it’s hard to win all matches and all tournaments. It’s only one fight in MMA, so you feel it a little bit. (You think), ‘Damn, I’ve trained for this person only.’ In jiu-jitsu, you can fight again next week and maybe meet that girl again.

“But the fact that I have my daughter with me...damn, I’m at peace. I’m very critical with myself, and I’ve always seen things I had to work on and get better in jiu-jitsu, even when I was winning, and it’s not different this time. There are things I know I did wrong, but also things I did well. But now that I have my daughter. I left the Octagon and my husband handed her to me, and damn, that was a good feeling. No matter what, my daughter is here, my family is here, so let’s keep going. It won’t change a thing. I think that having her, this blessing, helps it not hurt that much.”

Prior to the fight, Dern said that coming back to the cage just four months after giving birth helped her in many different ways. She did appear to be in better shape, and she had no issues hitting the strawweight limit on Friday. But after her loss, she was questioned by critics who wondered whether it was the right call.

Dern regrets nothing.

“Honestly, I had everything to win in this fight,” she said. “I felt I could win the fight, but it was more of a mental thing, in my opinion. Am I going to say I was tired in training? I was, I had a newborn, many things happened, just like it happens to every other fighter every day. I entered the Octagon feeling super prepared and ready.”

One of the major issues she had in the fight, Dern admits, was dealing with getting punched in the face again after a long layoff.

“I found the distance early in the fight, but lost it after the first hard exchange,” Dern said. “She’s a bit longer than me, and when I lost the distance, I started doubting myself, doubting my decisions to close the distance and get punched in the face, you know?

“It’s normal, it’s something you have to work in sparring and fighting to get used to getting punched in the face again. But I don’t think that’s the reason (I lost). Amanda was able to impose her strategy and technique in the fight. But I regret nothing. I know I could’ve won and people would way, ‘Wow, she won just four months after giving birth,’ so it doesn’t matter to me.”

The jiu-jitsu specialist has always been very active in MMA, fighting seven times in less than two years with four submission victories. After tasting defeat for the first time, Dern wants to get even busier now.

She hopes to be part of the yet-unannounced first UFC event in Brazil in 2020, that could take place in February. But she’s open to fighting even sooner.

“If God allows me, and I can accept a fight and my husband can stay with my daughter while I take a fight on a month’s notice, I’ll do it,” Dern said. “I’ll be able to fight even more, because I want to get to the belt fast. Now that that zero isn’t there anymore, it’s a bit easier to get fights.

“I don’t feel like I want to just win – I want the fight of the night, I want the knockout of the night, I want the submission of the night. Like, I want to become that person that doesn’t get attention for being undefeated, but gets attention for being a good fighter, you know? It changes a bit in that aspect.”