Mackenzie Dern wanted to make some changes in training after losing her first MMA fight, and that included getting punched in the face more often in the gym.
Dern is a multiple-time jiu-jitsu champion who built a 5-0 record in less than two years before joining the UFC in 2018, adding Ashley Yoder and Amanda Cooper to her list of victims in the octagon. In her third UFC bout, her perfect record was shattered by Amanda Ribas.
Ready to get back in action on Saturday at UFC on ESPN 9, Dern takes on Hannah Cifers, with lessons learned from her training camp.
“I felt I missed getting hit in the face,” she told MMA Fighting. “I’ve obviously sparred before the (Ribas) fight, but haven’t done much of it with small gloves, with partners really trying to hurt you. I did most of it with big gloves, so when I started fighting Amanda and we started exchanging, I was like, ‘Wow,’ and [I] took a step back, and [I] was afraid of getting knocked out or something like that.
“It was hard to close the distance and really work on taking her down, or close the distance to exchange punches, because she was taller than me and had more reach.”
Dern took some time off after that bout, which went down just months after the birth of her first daughter Moa. The jiu-jitsu wizard hoped to spar more during her next training camp, but couldn’t do it since gyms had to be shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, and she was forced to work with a limited group of people.
Dern’s father, jiu-jitsu ace Wellington “Megaton” Dias, was in her corner for the first time in an MMA fight when she lost to Ribas. Since being stuck at home, Dern finally has had him fully invested in her camp.
“What I really wanted was to spar a lot before my next fight, make my face get used to getting punched,” Dern said. “I’m feeling that’s the tough part in this camp, because I haven’t sparred with a lot of people. But we did everything we could. I have a few training partners, my muay Thai coach, and my dad is here as well.”
The 27-year-old strawweight originally was scheduled to face Ariane Carnelossi on April 25, but the event was one of the many UFC cards cancelled due to the pandemic. With Carnelossi stuck in Brazil due to travel restrictions, Dern was offered Cifers as a new opponent.
Both fighters are coming off losses to Angela Hill, but Cifers has more experience in the UFC. Dern admits she considered not taking the new opponent on short notice, especially when the UFC suggested moving the match to the May 13 show in Jacksonville, Fla. But she was hungry to get back to the winning column.
“Hannah is a tough girl,” Dern said. “I’ve seen her fight and brawl, I’ve seen a lot, and, based on what I’ve seen, her takedown defense isn’t that great. It’s obvious for everyone that I want to get her on the ground, and I think that’s the main difference between her and (Carnelossi). She was also a muay Thai fighter, but I didn’t know much of Ariane, and I know more about Hannah to prepare myself better.
“I think the fight now is less difficult. You can’t say it’s going to be easy, of course, everyone is prepared for everything there. I know she has a lot of wins, her punches are very dangerous. One thing I don’t wanna do is exchange a lot with her. I don’t want to risk getting knocked out or something like that.
“I’m very focused on getting back on track and winning,” she continued. “No more craziness. I don’t think my career has been that crazy but everybody does. They said I was crazy for coming back so early after pregnancy, that I was fighting every three months, that I was doing MMA and jiu-jitsu at the same time. I guess I’m still part of the crazy group that’s fighting during a pandemic, right? [laughs]”