Mackenzie Dern takes one step at a time but eyes strawweight elite, eventually

After more than a year of speculation, rumors and negotiations, Mackenzie Dern finally signed with the UFC recently. Now with a set date to debut in the world’s biggest MMA promotion, the grappling specialist will have to leave the mats behind for a while to focus solely on her evolution as a Mixed Martial Artist.

Set to face Ashley Yoder on March 3 at UFC 222, Dern is looking forward to making her debut on the biggest of stages. Despite having less than two years of experience in MMA on her side, the 24-year-old believes that she’s ready to achieve remarkable things in the UFC in similar fashion to her grappling career that saw Dern become champion in multiple renowned tournaments.

“In 2018, I would like to have a lot of fights, since I’m with the UFC now”, Dern told AG. Fight. “I had already said that, when I have my UFC debut scheduled, I’d decrease my specific jiu-jitsu training a lot, and I will do that, so I can do more MMA. The more you fight, the faster you evolve. Trusting yourself and having a clear head are the most important parts of an athlete.”

Currently on vacation in Rio de Janeiro, the daughter of accomplished Brazilian grappler Wellington “Megaton” Dias makes no secret of her desire to one day perform at a UFC event in Brazil where she’d be able to represent her flag in front of a home crowd – against a foreign opponent.

“It would be a dream to fight in Brazil”, Dern said. “Not only to fight [here], but to represent Brazil as well (laughs). Whenever that happens, I’d like to fight a ‘Gringo’ so I can really represent Brazil more. When the UFC has an event in Brazil, I’d definitely like to be on that card.”

Originally a grappler, it didn’t take long for the young, talented jiu-jitsu champion, who is also sporting marketable looks and is fluent in both Portuguese and English, to garner attention within the MMA world when she decided to try her hand inside a cage in 2016.

“It’s been a long time since my first [MMA] fight until the UFC showed interest, and it’s logical. Me and my manager, we had an interest in signing [with the UFC], but I had never done MMA before, so it was kind of early. We were pretty sure that I’d make the transition to the UFC [eventually], but we wanted to be comfortable with the weight classes. After I hit the weight and had a few good fights, it went fast […]. Then they booked this fight for March, and I’m very happy to finally have this contract.”

“Of course I wanted to get into the UFC early, but we had problems with the weight and with surgeries. Things happen, and we can’t always do things the way we expect. I think I’m ready, but of course not to fight the champion, Rose [Namajunas]. But I’m moving up and it’s time to make that transition.”

First, Dern is set to square off with Ashley Yoder, who will fight in the UFC for the third time after losing her first two bouts in the promotion. While Yoder will most likely enter the fight in a do-or-die situation, Dern believes that she’ll be able to make an impression on March 3.

“I didn’t know Ashley, I didn’t have anybody in mind and I didn’t ask for anyone”, Dern said. “It’s my team’s job, they know my game and they know my strengths and weaknesses. I think it’s going to be a great fight and a great UFC debut. If all goes well, it’ll be a victory for me.”

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