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On motherhood and fighting, Mackenzie Dern sets new goal: ‘Be the first mother to win a championship belt in the UFC’

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Mackenzie Dern
Mackenzie Dern is undefeated in seven professional fights, three of those in the UFC
E. Casey Leydon, MMA Fighting

UFC strawweight Mackenzie Dern announced on Feb. 22 she was expecting a baby, but she’s actually planning to be back in action inside the Octagon in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Wait, what? How is that possible?

Allow her to explain.

Earlier this year — on Jan. 9, to be more specific — Dern was targeting a return to the UFC in March. What she didn’t know is that she was already five months pregnant, expecting a baby with her husband and professional surfer Wesley Santos.

The UFC approached her with a fight offer in January, but Dern, who had no idea she was pregnant — her child is due in May — turned it down. She wanted to stay at 115 pounds instead of moving up to flyweight. But even if Dern had said yes to the fight, the matchup would be cancelled shortly after when she found out about her pregnancy.

Dern says she hasn’t gained a single pound during pregnancy, and plans on fighting again between October or November. It’s still too soon to mark a date on the calendar, but that’s what she’s targeting right now.

“I don’t even know if I’m having a normal delivery or a C-section. Everything makes a difference,” Dern told MMA Fighting. “But I’m confident that I’ll fight in October. That’s what I told my manager. My husband travels a lot but he’s a surfer, he trains in the morning and has a flexible work schedule, so he helps me a lot.”

Dern and Santos
Photo via Dern's Instagram

For now, Dern is enjoying life as a soon-to-be mom and traveling the world with Santos. After spending some time in Fernando de Noronha, where they took that picture they posted on social media to announce the pregnancy, they will visit Australia and Bali in the next few weeks.

Dern will do everything possible to train jiu-jitsu while she’s on the road before she delivers the baby — and feels relieved that Santos is a surfer, not a martial artist.

“Imagine if he was from karate or something like that? ‘No, no, jiu-jitsu is better,’” Dern said with a laugh. “But jiu-jitsu and surfing is a cool match. Many surfers like jiu-jitsu and many jiu-jitsu practitioners like surfing, so it’s cool. Daddy is excited to give our baby a little surf board and I’m excited to buy the first gi. God willing, the baby will like the gi [laughs].”

The Brazilian-American fighter won’t be the first mother to enter the eight-sided cage, but that small group of people guarantee it feels completely different.

Dern believes it.

“When you’re by yourself it’s hard to find the right motivation,” Dern said. “‘Oh, I like money, I want that celebrity life,’ things like that, but getting punched every day and training your entire life… Man, I missed weight in May and there was a fight in Fortaleza (in February) where a girl [Sarah Frota] missed weight by seven pounds and everybody was criticizing me. It’s hard to maintain a good head, stay motivated. When I found out about the pregnancy I said ‘wow, I want to come back and fight as soon as possible, I want to come back better than ever’. I want my child to be proud of me and give us a better life.

“Many people say ‘she’s lucky because she’s pretty and the UFC likes her, gives her easy fights, and she can do whatever she wants,’ but it’s not like that. My fans… Actually, I lost many fans when I posted a picture with my husband announcing the pregnancy. But I like that it’s changing a bit. It’s no longer those fans that are looking a pretty girl fighting, but fans that really cheer for you during your daily battles and like you for what you do. That’s really cool. That really is motivating.”

Maybe Dern gets a different type of social media following now, being a bad-ass mom that fights in the UFC for a living.

“I hope I can serve as inspiration,” Dern said. “I think I’m gaining more followers among women now. It used to be more men before.”

More than that, being a mother will give her another goal in life. The only thing Amanda Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko, Rose Namajunas and all the other women that have ever held the UFC gold have in common? None of them had kids before winning the belt.

“The first mother? No mother ever did it? I didn’t even know that,” Dern said. “I have another goal now: be the first mother to win a championship belt in the UFC.”