Mackenzie Dern came into MMA as an established great in jiu jitsu. But before she ever became an MMA fighter, she was showing signs of burn out. In several jiu jitsu competitions she would attempt to make weight and fail. And during ADCC 2017 she was eliminated at the very first stage of the competition by a then unknown competitor.
At the time, Dern was living in Arizona and was training at MMA Lab. While her UFC debut was well received. With the numbers peaking for at 1,076,000 views for her debut on the prelims of UFC 222 shortly after she was “asked to leave” the MMA lab.
In early 2018 Dern explained to MMA Fighting:
“… after my last fight, Coach Crouch, he just invited me to leave the team. I think really we don’t have a 100-percent understanding. I think he knows his decisions more than me. I think with just the consistency, he wanted me to be there more often than what I was, but everything happens for a reason.”
In Arizona, Dern used to be engaged to another former UFC fighter – Augusto Tanquinho Mendes. However as their time together came to a close Dern was more content spending time in LA and was increasingly training more and more at her new beau’s club – Checkmat. That is when she was training at all. Bleacher Report’s JE Snowden wasn’t very upbeat on Dern’s state at the time his article The Next Rousey? Mackenzie Dern Has the Look, the Skill—and the Determination was published:
Curiously both of these tweets have been deleted since.
In February 2019, Dern announced her first pregnancy. The pregnancy meant that Dern would be putting her 7-0 professional MMA career on hold.
But the break didn’t last too long. It seems as though her new marriage and pregnancy replenished Dern’s desire to provide for her family. Dern gave birth by June 2019 and booked her next fight for October. Now her next fight would prove to be one of the hardest match ups she had to date. Not only was Dern returning from the hormone tailspin that’s pregnancy but she was doing it all against Amanda Ribas, an experienced Brazilian fighter who seemed to have laser sharp focus.
Ribas team deconstructed Dern’s gameplans efficiently so Ribas was able to stuff all of Dern’s attempts to take it to the ground and outpoint her efficiently. Dern’s perfect record was no more. At this point Dern was preparing for her fights at Blackhouse MMA with the guidance of Juan Gomez.
To the superficial observer, things seemed to be coming along just fine. Dern’s striking was improving and her submission game was as sharp as its ever been. 2020 brought a lot of complications for the entire world and for the UFC. Suddenly UFC was unable to offer fights to many of their international fighters and had to largely rely on those that were residing in the USA. For Dern, this meant she’d be able to catch a break. In a quickly put together fight, Dern was matched with a purple belt from Wake Forest called Hannah Cifers. Cifers was just what Dern needed as she was clearly outclassed on the ground and unable to provide any sort of a resistance to Dern.
Dern went on to also accept a fight with Randa Markos – an experienced fighter out of Canada who had also lost her last fight to Amanda Ribas. This was another great showcase for Dern – as she managed to submit Markos with an Armbar in round 1 with barely a few strikes thrown between the two. But in spite of big bonuses and flashy submission victories trouble brewed below.
Several months later, in the prelude to Virna Jandiroba fight Dern was smiling as she revealed her surfer husband had been involved in an altercation with her coach Juan Gomez that lead to the two parting ways.
“My ex-coach Juan Gomez, I don’t know what happened that he called us to go to the academy to talk,” Dern said on the What the Heck show. “I think he was unhappy with a bonus, like money-wise for my last fight. Basically, I always ask my coaches, ‘Hey, during camp, if you have anything, just talk to my husband.’ Obviously, at home me and him talk about everything, so we’re the same person, but when I’m in camp I don’t want to have to think about it. I don’t want to think about money or coaches or anything like that, let’s just talk about training.
“So my husband talked to him. My husband’s like this surfer guy, you know, totally good vibes, afro, definitely not the fighter style. He went to go talk to him and [Gomez] was just like, ‘No, if you want to come to the academy, come to the academy and we’ll talk,’ and hung up. We went to the academy and he just swept dirt onto my husband, pushed him, and my husband pushed him back and they just went into a fistfight. It wasn’t like a brawl, a crazy brawl, it was like a street fight or technical fistfight. Back and forth, my husband’s doing feints, and I’m like, ‘Where’s he learning all this?’ It was so crazy.”
“As soon as I saw that my coach attacked my husband, that just finished it for us. I love Black House and everything they’ve done for me, but that coach, I can’t work with that. No matter how much, I don’t know, if you’re mad about it because your bonus wasn’t high enough, you just can’t attack someone. Especially when my husband is so humble with water and he’s like, ‘Can we have that talk that you asked me to do?’ I don’t know what happened. To this day we still don’t know exactly what pushed it to that level.”
Gomez gave his own side of the story telling mmafighting:
“It hurts me when I saw this interview from her speaking about the bonus, which is something that was never my priority,” Gomez said. “Never. It’s something that people need to know the truth. What happened between me and her husband was nothing about money or bonus. It was numerous factors that built up, that [led to] what happened between me and her husband, which was something not big. It was something not a big deal at all, I thought we flipped the page. A couple of days ago, I approached her friend, her wrestling coach, that I wanted to say sorry to her. Because in the end I still like her. In the end, I see our friendship. I want the best for her. I wish her the best in this fight.
“But when she speaks about the bonus, it’s something that makes me sad. And she knows better than anybody that this was never my priority. I still respect her because I’m not going to go into details that caused the fight to happen. It was numerous factors. If I was a bad person I could come to you right now and speak all the details which make that fight happen, but I’m not going to because I respect her. Even when she speaks something that is not true about the bonus, I still respect her, her privacy, and everything that happened between us.”
Pressed for an explanation as to why he and Santos fought, Gomez would only say, “She knows. She knows.”
Gomez ultimately added:
“People need to realize, which was Mackenzie’s first training camp? Where was it? What happened over there? After that, where she went? And what happened the second training camp? So what happened over there? It’s kind of like, if there is a problem, yes it is on both sides. I’m not gonna say that it 100 percent was my fault, but I’m not gonna say that Mackenzie and Wesley they are 100 percent right. I am wrong and they are wrong too. But I don’t think it’s fair we go to the public in interviews speaking lies, things that are not true.”
Dern would quickly find a new home with the RVCA gym and Jason Parillo as her boxing coach. It seems as though her father, Megaton Dias would be stepping up bigtime and coaching her in grappling instead of Chekmat’s Leo Vieira.
Dern would go on to score two more victories – a decision over Jandiroba and another impressive submission over Nina Nunes in spring 2021.
Following the Nunes fight, UFC seemed to suggest Dern’s next fight would be Marina Rodriguez and it all seemed very written in stone as far as the public was concerned.
But Rodriguez was not too eager to sign this contract.
Speaking to AG Fight, Rodriguez confirmed she declined to fight Dern in July:
“The UFC offered us to Mackenzie for July, but I had already warned that we wanted to fight in September or October. As I saw that she wants to fight before, I believe that our fight may not even happen for now. And, of course, after catching a fight (against Michelle Waterson) with 11 days notice, we talked to my trainer Marcio Malko and decided that we would do our complete planning for the next fight, because we know that it is getting closer and closer to the belt and we don’t want to miss this opportunity when it comes,” Rodriguez said.
And just late last night the news arrived Dern had signed with her new management.
Top-ranked strawweight Mackenzie Dern has signed with Paradigm Sports Management for full representation, per the firm. She wants to fight ASAP and two more times this year, manager Tim Simpson says. PSM reps McGregor, Adesanya, Edwards, Wonderboy, Cyborg and many, many more.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 22, 2021
“I’m excited for the next phase of my career and working with Paradigm,” Dern said in a press release. “I really feel that, as a team, we will reach my full potential as a fighter inside and outside of the cage!”
While this new move sounds positive, it remains to be seen what this latest change will do for Dern’s fighting career.