UFC strawweight Mackenzie Dern made history with her submission victory in her last octagon outing but the jiu-jitsu queen is relishing the chance to prove she’s a more rounded fighter when she faces Randa Markos on Saturday.
Dern secured the first-ever leglock submission in UFC women’s history when she defeated Hannah Cifers in the first round of their contest in May, and returns to the scene of that victory when she meets Iraqi-born Canadian veteran Markos at the UFC’s Apex facility in Las Vegas this weekend, on a Fight Night card headlined by the welterweight grudge match between Colby Covington and Tyron Woodley.
The win against Cifers earned Dern a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus, but perhaps just as importantly it got her back in the win column following the first loss of her professional MMA career against Brazil’s Amanda Ribas in October of last year.
Jiu-jitsu champion Dern’s grappling prowess was on display for all to see against Cifers, but when she steps in to meet Markos – a 35-year-old veteran of 14 UFC contests – Dern said we could see her showcase a new side to her game.
“I definitely don’t want to take too many chances standing up. Even if I’m feeling great, you just need to hit the spot and that can finish the fight. I definitely feel 100 percent more comfortable on the ground,” the 27-year-old told MMA Fighting.
“[But] I definitely see a knockout could be possible, what’s more surprising than a jiu-jitsu girl knocking [someone] out? It definitely could be a big surprise and I think it’s definitely a big possibility. I know that Randa is going to try and finish me too.
“If she keeps defending and defending, I’m not scared to be standing up and definitely will be dangerous for sure. I definitely think we’re going to see that [my stand-up is better].
“Hopefully, people will start to see me as an all-round fighter, I want to get 5 stars on the UFC game and everything like that.”
The newfound confidence in her striking skills partly comes as a result of a change in training set-up, as Dern has moved on from the Black House team in Los Angeles and joined up with striking coach Jason Parillo.
Dern spoke fondly of the Black House team but did reveal that a pay row had resulted in a punch-up between her husband, professional surfer Wesley Santos, and former coach Juan Gomez.
“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,” she said.
Dern’s showdown with Markos will be her first on a new deal she negotiated with the UFC in the wake of her victory over Cifers – and the jiu-jitsu specialist revealed that her eye-catching submission had provided leverage for the negotiations.
“The leglock was a great way for me to negotiate better. I’m really happy how it worked out and I’m excited about the things we’re going to do with the UFC,” said the Arizona-born star.
In Markos, Dern will face a battle-hardened veteran who has a record of 10 wins, eight losses and one draw in her career, and who has a remarkable habit of alternating wins and losses consistently throughout her tenure in the UFC ranks. That includes a unanimous decision defeat to Ribas in her last appearance back in March.
Dern said she expected Markos to be unfazed by the occasion or her opponent on Saturday night, given her extensive experience.
“Definitely she’s the most experienced [person I’ve fought], she’s going to be the most not scared fighter…,” Dern said.
“She’s seen it all, she’s seen everything… there’s nothing that’s really going to scare her about my name or my jiu-jitsu background.
“Coming into this fight, it’s just kind of being prepared to show her, ‘Hey I’m not scared either, I’m here to fight’. I’m definitely hungry for this.
“I know she’s like a grappler, but I don’t know if she’s going to want to grapple. I think she’s going to want to go the three rounds, she’s got a good gas tank.
“It’s going to be a great fight to see where I’m placed among all the girls.”
After her win against Cifers, Dern spoke of her active desire to be crowned the UFC’s ‘Mom Champ’ as she seeks to rise up the rankings and possibly even become the first active mother to lay claim to UFC gold.
Dern said she will have the added support of her daughter Moa on fight weekend in Vegas, as well as her beloved pet dog.
Amid all the optimism over her potential, concerns have followed Dern in the past over her weight, having previously missed the limit on the scales three times.
This time round though, Dern assured fans that she had no concerns.
“I’m going to make [weight], don’t worry,” she said with a characteristic style.
“My weight’s awesome, please guys you don’t need to question my weight anymore.
“Three missed weights, I understand people are going to hold it against me. Colby made a meme about me.
“But I’m like, ‘Man, please just stop talking about my weight, talk about anything, but not my weight’. I’m feeling good.”