In early 2019, UFC strawweight Mackenzie Dern announced she was expecting her first child with her husband Wesley Santos. But along with the well-wishes and congratulatory messages she received, the 28-year-old also lost a chunk of her social media following and some sponsors.
As Dern revealed to Women’s Health in June:
“The pregnancy was such a surprise and such a blessing, but when I announced it in February 2019, I lost 50,000 followers on Instagram instantly. Obviously, there were people following me who were just thinking, Oh, she’s a hot girl that fights.
“And the assumption is that if you get pregnant, you’re not coming back—or if you do, you’re going to be soft inside. Fans are very important for us because that’s how we sell our fights. But in the end, I’m glad I lost them. Now I have real fans who appreciate all my phases. I gained those 50,000 followers back—and then some.
“I lost a couple of sponsors, too, but that only spurred me on. I doubled down on my boxing and strength training, to get the muscles back and to get to the next level as a fighter.”
Dern, however, understands the nature of the business she’s in.
“I understand that we’re (in) a more man-based sport,” she told MMA Fighting in an interview this week. “My role is just trying to inspire women to identify more of themselves in my story. Like, ‘Hey, moms can fight.’ Not even moms, but women. Maybe, sometimes they get scared, like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna fight and maybe not be too feminine anymore.’ But we can still stay the same.
“I know that we have a more male base and, of course, if you can see a hot girl fighting, and then all of a sudden she’s pregnant, and maybe to think I’m not gonna make… I already was having problems with making weight before. Everyone’s just kinda, like… I guess they just laughed and ‘OK, she’s never gonna come back to fighting, nothing.’”
“Sponsors? Hey, it’s business. It’s money. I understand not gonna be in the media, not gonna be in those things. But now I think they’re probably, like, ‘Oh, maybe we shouldn’t have done that.’”
Dern suffered her first and only loss against Amanda Ribas in October 2019, but she’d since bounced back to win four straight fights. It was spurred on by the motivation to prove her doubters wrong.
“For me, it was, like, ‘OK, I need to prove everyone wrong.’ And before I got pregnant, I knew that I would be active while being a mom. Because my dad, I grew up watching my dad compete.
“So I always knew that what I learned from him was so important in my life. Watching him win and lose and make weight all the sacrifices he did, that’s something I definitely want to pass (on to) my kids. I didn’t want to have kids after I retire.”
The Mundial and ADCC champion will look to extend her win streak in a potential title eliminator this Saturday against Marina Rodriguez. The two women will headline UFC Vegas 39 at the APEX.