Mackenzie Dern will return to the Octagon after the longest layoff of her career. Married to professional surfer Wesley Santos and a mother to 2-month-old Moa, the jiu-jitsu specialist meets Amanda Ribas at the upcoming UFC Fight Night card in Tampa, Fla., on Oct. 12.
Before giving birth to her daughter on June 9, Dern told MMA Fighting that her plan was to come back in October, when Moa would be only four months old. The UFC strawweight returned not that long ago to training in Los Angeles, and always brings her newborn with her to the gym.
Balancing breastfeeding and training sessions and constant visits to the beach to watch her husband surf, Dern is 26 pounds lighter now (121 pounds) compared to right before she got pregnant (147 pounds). Even though she still has to add muscle back to her body, she doesn’t expect her weight to be an issue come October.
“The UFC was struggling to decide if they would clear me or not because I’m still breast-feeding, they were afraid that I would stop producing milk when I cut weight and affect my daughter, but it’s all good,” Dern told MMA Fighting. “I’ve been cleared by the doctors and the UFC. I’m feeling fine.
“We get more tired because we don’t get to sleep sometimes and have to wake up early, but other than that everything is normal. It’s just like one of those regular training camps I had prior to being a mom.”
According to Dern, the UFC suggested her taking a fight at flyweight before going all the back down to 115 pounds again, but she would rather not fight at all if she wasn’t able to do it at strawweight.
“I’m just six pounds over the limit and I still have seven weeks left,” said Dern, who had trouble making the strawweight limit in the past. “I know that breastfeeding helps burning calories without even noticing it, plus all the training. My weight is fine, I’m actually surprised. My idea is to burn the fat I got because of the milk and all that, and add muscle.
“I’m focusing on my diet and training. The UFC is sending me meals every day and that helps me a lot because I have no time to cook with the baby. They’ve been helping me a lot.”
With her “biggest motivation” by her side now, Dern dreams with the day Moa will understand what her mother does for a living. Dern is aware that she’s not alone in the quest to become the first mom to win a title in the UFC, but is confident that she will remain unbeaten against Ribas, a black belt in jiu-jitsu and judo who holds a record of 7-1 in MMA.
“I don’t know her that much, but I know she’s far from being an easy fight,” Dern said. “She has a good ground game. I don’t know much about her striking because her UFC win was fast, I couldn’t see much, but I think it’s going to be a fun fight. It wasn’t easy then and it won’t be easy now. I know some people used to say they only gave me easy fights, but Amanda is quite the opposite of that.”
Dern finished four of her seven opponents in MMA via submission, but promises “a few traps on the feet so people don’t think I only have my right hand.” Yet, she predicts a grappling showdown with Ribas in Tampa.
“Everybody will think that my jiu-jitsu is outdated or that I’ll have no rhythm because of the pregnancy, and I believe she’ll be very confident in her ground game,” Dern said. “No one wants to risk getting clipped on the feet and getting knocked out. I believe that her strategy will be going to the ground with me, but I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu since I was 3 years old, so it would take a lot more than nine months for my jiu-jitsu to get outdated.”