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Mackenzie Dern inspired by Royce Gracie and BJ Penn, wishes to be female BJJ icon in MMA

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Mackenzie Dern wants to follow the footsteps of former BJJ legends as she prepares to face Marina Rodriguez.

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Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Mackenzie Dern has big plans for her MMA career. Paired up against Marina Rodriguez for the UFC Vegas 39 main event, she knows that a win on Saturday could put her into the strawweight title mix, but the belt is not all that the grappling star targets.

In an interview with Combate, Mackenzie revealed a bit more of what she wishes to accomplish in MMA. Although winning a belt would already be nice enough, Dern would like to bring notoriety to jiu-jitsu like her previous idols did. Much like Royce Gracie, Demian Maia and BJ Penn, the 28-year-old wants to become another reference for the sport, but for women.

“I’d like to go into this fight showing everything that I represent. Going back to the roots of the UFC, in the time of Royce Gracie, because I think I’m the first IBJJF world champion to represent jiu-jitsu in MMA. We’ve had Demian Maia, BJ Penn, Ronaldo Souza and many other men. I’m one of the first women. UFC 1 was in 1993. We’re in 2021 and still able to represent that, to show how effective jiu-jitsu is. Of course it’s changed a lot, most female athletes are so-so at everything. You can see they work on everything, but this fight can show the difference between jiu-jitsu and muay thai. Not that one is better than the other, but at the Apex, for instance, with the smaller Octagon, I think I’m favored.”

Although Dern does not like to face fellow Brazilians and will have to do it for the third time in her UFC career, she still hopes for an exciting match. Ideally, Mackenzie would like to take on her fellow countrywomen in a fight with the belt on the line, but perceives seeing so many Brazilian women at the top of the division as a silver lining.

“Marina always walks forward to hit you, to knock you out. She has a heavy right hand. I’m the same way, always pressuring to take you down. But if I have to strike, I’ll trade shots, too. Her right hand is heavy, she has good reach, too. She’s a bit of a late bloomer, but then she starts to throw her elbows and knees. I believe she’ll have good takedown defense. I have to find the distance and not let her become comfortable in the fight. I don’t want her to get confident.”

“The only thing (that bugs me) is that it’s a Brazilian against another one.” Dern said. “I wish we’d only fight for the belt, but we’re all chasing the same dream. It’s funny. After my fight with Amanda Ribas, I started following her, I saw her effort and her brother’s, I really like her story. Same thing with Jandiroba, I started following her and then I fought her. I end up fighting all the girls I respect. Now it’s Marina. This shows that Brazilian women are coming. If we’re fighting each other, it’s because we’re getting closer to the top. I’m sure the strawweight belt is coming back to Brazil.”

Currently on a four-fight winning streak, Dern (11-1) has scored wins over Nina Nunes, Virna Jandiroba, Randa Markos and Hannah Cifers, three of which came by way of submission. The 28-year-old’s last and sole professional loss happened in October 2019. when she dropped a unanimous decision to Amanda Ribas.

Now, Dern is expected to take on Rodriguez at UFC Vegas 39’s main event, on October 9. The card is scheduled to take place at the UFC Apex, in Las Vegas, Nevada.