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Mackenzie Dern: Should We Care Yet?

May 15, 2018 | Posted by Evan Zivin
Mackenzie Dern

What a time it is right now to be a grappling star getting into MMA.

Not only have we been graced with a successful debut by Gary Tonon in ONE Championship and the debut of Dillion Danis playing the role of “Conor McGregor, Jr.” in Bellator (I hope the real Conor Jr. doesn’t take issue with it…), we are also in the midst of the rise of Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu ace Mackenzie Dern in the UFC, as she proves how she may become a formidable threat to the women of the strawweight division.

Or at least she might be able to whenever she’s actually able to make weight as a strawweight…

That’s right. The UFC has found a new attraction who is young and good looking and carries herself well in front of the media but is also inexperienced and unproven as an MMA fighter.

YAY! THE HARDCORE MMA FANBASE HAS A NEW FIGHTER TO HATE!

Well, maybe “hate” is a strong word (for some) but you all know how much we don’t like being told who to like and, after the UFC worked so hard to make fighters like Paige Vanzant and Sage Northcutt a thing, it appears they’re trying again with Mackenzie.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who heavily follows the sport, as there’s been plenty of coverage on Mackenzie’s MMA career the entire way. When she debuted in 2016, when she missed weight the first time, when she missed weight the second time, when she made her UFC debut…every single step of the way, including Saturday night, when she finally arrived and gave a taste of the potential she has when she submitted Amanda Cooper in quick fashion on the main card of UFC 224.

This is a fight that came just two months after she made her UFC debut at UFC 222, barely securing a split decision in a plodding mess of a fight against Ashley Yoder. It was a win that made many wonder how seriously she was taking this next step in her combat sports career.

As someone who has competed and achieved victory at the highest levels of the grappling world, being the daughter of BJJ master Wellington “Megaton” Dias, which is one of the Pound-for-Pound best nicknames out there, one would think we shouldn’t need to call into question her desire and ability to compete at a high level.

We shouldn’t need to but missing weight by 7 pounds certainly doesn’t help. Also, fighting weeks after being asked to leave the gym she had been training out of, the MMA Lab in Phoenix, AZ, sure doesn’t help either.

Oh and that accent. Sweet baby Jesus in an omoplata, that accent. It’s like she learned to speak English from watching Anderson Silva post fight interviews. I can only imagine the challenge of learning the language growing up in…Arizona.

It all leads us to the big question concerning Mackenzie right now and her burgeoning MMA career:

Should we care? Should we?

And to that, I say: I dunno.

And I don’t say that to be one of those writers who looks to start a discussion without adding anything to it (side note: does Steve Gustafson still write for 411? SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW!) but it’s too early to say.

That’s what makes it weird when UFC is clearly giving an inordinate amount of attention to a fighter as early in her career as Mackenzie. I mean, she does have a strong martial arts pedigree and a lot of accomplishments to go along with it, but what has she done in MMA, the only combat sport most of us give any amount of crap about?

After her win on Saturday, Mackenzie is 7-0 as an MMA fighter, 4 of those wins by submissions, which is impressive even though she hasn’t fought any real competition yet. The fight with Ashley Yoder at UFC 222 was supposed to be a gimme in the same way the Cooper fight turned out to be, but it wasn’t.

Did it mean she’s not as good as the hype surrounding her made her out to be? Or did it just prove the obvious, that transitioning to MMA isn’t easy for anyone?

I mean, just ask CM Punk…

It’s okay, Punk. Go get that money on June 9.

I’ve already mentioned previous examples of UFC pushing young, attractive fighters onto Payperviews and main card fights before they were ready or deserving, fighters that UFC throttled from the start only to have to let up on the gas because a talent can only succeed so far if they don’t have the skill to go with the hype.

Well, unless they fight in Bellator…

Seriously, Sage is two fights removed from getting beat by Micky “CM Punk Slayer” Gall and was barely on the main card of an FS1 show his last time out, and the only notable win Paige has had in the last three years was on an episode of Chopped. These are fighters Dana White pegged as surefire stars and they sure are fizzling out in front of our eyes.

It shows how hard it is to identify future champions, not that we needed more reminders of it after so many years of awful seasons of The Ultimate Fighter.

Not everyone is going to be Conor McGregor, Dana. Just because you struck gold once doesn’t mean it’ll happen again. Stop pushing these talents ahead of the rest of the pack, giving us reason to hate them from the start, until they’ve proven they are deserving of that push.

Will Mackenzie prove she is deserving? Her background makes it seem like she may be able to handle it better than others and her performance on Saturday helps support that, as it was a well placed punch that set up her finishing sequence and let everyone see she’s as good on the ground as her ADCC gold medals indicated. That could mean her striking is developing. Or it could mean she’s one Holly Holm away from becoming a laughingstock and/or future WWE Women’s Champion.

We’ll see what happens. Maybe she’ll flop. Or maybe she’ll be the next Ronda Rousey that UFC is desperately looking for to propel the women’s divisions forward. Maybe she’ll lose to the first ranked fighter she faces. Or maybe we could be looking at the face (or hearing the broken English) of the next women’s star at either 115 or, more likely, 125, since she can make that weight and it’s a class that could use a little star power to get it going.

I mean, does UFC have a women’s flyweight champion? I swear there was one here just the other day. Maybe Ariel Helwani knows more about that…

Either way, if Mackenzie can keep winning, she’ll get there. If she can prove she belongs, she’ll find acceptance, if not now, then eventually.

And if it doesn’t work out for her? Well, Kayla Harrison is about to make her MMA debut…

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

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Mackenzie Dern, Evan Zivin