A jiu-jitsu champion at age 24, Mackenzie Dern is one of the great promises in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. Fluent in Portuguese and English, the American-Brazilian is young, charismatic and likes to finish fights – characteristics that would likely make for a smooth transition to MMA if it weren’t for one big, feared obstacle: the scale.
Of the three fights she did in MMA as of now, Dern reached the 116-pound strawweight limit only once, which, in addition to generating lots of criticism and doubts about the proficiency of her training, also seems to endanger a possible deal with the UFC.
To not destroy her career before it really starts, Dern seems close to making the most difficult decision of her young career.
“Competing in both Jiu-Jitsu and MMA is very difficult”, Dern told AG. Fight. “[But] it’s also hard to stop doing something that is my best asset. In the beginning, I thought that to fight MMA, I needed to have my jiu-jitsu at my best, and there’s no way I could be better than preparing to face the best. But I feel like [doing both grappling and MMA competitively] disrupts my jiu-jitsu, too.”
The solution would be to focus on only one discipline, which would mean that submission grappling tournaments would disappear from her competitive life to not only fully focus on MMA practice but to adapt her body to the new sport and avoid weight cut disasters before they become a regularity.
“One thing we think might be a problem is this weight roller coaster”, Dern said. “It goes down to 116 pounds to fight MMA [at strawweight] and then it goes up. I have to gain weight, for jiu-jitsu it’s up to 130 pounds. Then I have to go down to strawweight again for MMA […]. Every month I’m in a weight-loss process, I’m feeling like I’m really (expletive) up my body with that and all the training. We’re thinking that I’ll make a decision soon.”
As in jiu-jitsu the weigh-ins are done the day of competition, the cut is usually not as intense as in MMA as there is no period for recovery and rehydration in BJJ. Therefore, the fighter, in addition to facing the scale practically every month, has to deal with weight loss systems that are different from MMA.
“In Jiu-Jitsu, you cut weight differently”, Dern said. “I’m cutting in two different ways […] and my body wasn’t used to it […]. Everyone knows that, but I still want to defend my title in the ADCC every two years. I don’t know what to do.”
Going up in weight, some will say.
“We talked and we thought about it”, Dern said. “But because of my frame, strawweight would be my division. Who knows, I could go up one day if things go well, but strawweight [currently] is best for me.”