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UFC’s Mackenzie Dern eager to atone for first loss

Updated May 28, 2020 - 6:43 pm

UFC women’s strawweight standout Mackenzie Dern heard all the reasons and excuses for why she suffered the first loss of her MMA career in October.

She doesn’t accept any of them.

Dern’s unanimous-decision loss to rising star Amanda Ribas came four months after she gave birth to daughter Moa in June.

“For me, the hardest thing was seeing all these people talking about my loss or trying to find an excuse or whatever,” Dern said Thursday. “Hearing people say, ‘Oh, you came back too soon,’ or ‘You’re not the same fighter anymore after having a baby,’ or ‘Your body’s different,’ or ‘You’re not going to be as athletic.’ I still haven’t watched that fight. I know I did my best. Amanda was just the better fighter.”

Dern will look to bounce back against Hannah Cifers to kick off the UFC on ESPN 9 main card Saturday at the UFC’s Apex facility. No fans will be allowed in the facility.

The plan wasn’t to take so much time off after the loss, but Dern had a tougher time getting booked coming off a loss than when she was undefeated. Then came the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the sports world.

“It’s been almost the same amount of time as I was pregnant since I last fought,” she said. “It fuels a fire. I don’t want to be in a situation where I don’t have as much priority anymore. You want to be the person who gets to fight when you want to fight and ask for what you want. You kind of lose a lot of credibility.”

Not that Dern, 27, has never dealt with adversity. She is one of the most decorated jiu-jitsu practitioners to compete in the UFC and has lost many times in the discipline.

But that’s different. She recalls often losing a match in her weight class only to avenge it later in the day.

“You can just move on so fast,” she said.

If things go her way Saturday, Dern will be relying on those roots to carry her to victory.

Her ground game is her surest route to victory, and she’s unapologetic about her game plan.

“The ground is her (Cifers’) weakest point, and obviously that’s my strongest point,” Dern said. “So that’s going to be the strategy. No secret to that.”

The fights at the Apex will be inside a 25-foot cage. The UFC uses a 30-foot cage for most events, so Dern thinks the smaller cage gives her an advantage.

“Mostly when people fight me, the strategy is to get in and get out and stay away from me,” she said. “She’ll have less space to run around.”

The other aspects of fighting during this time are less ideal.

The quarantine protocols mean Dern is away from her daughter for an extended period for the first time. She also has to have her hair braided for more than 24 hours because of the even stricter isolation period that will go into effect after a second round of coronavirus testing.

But Dern thinks the negatives aren’t nearly enough to outweigh her enthusiasm for fighting again.

“I wasn’t sure it was going to happen,” she said of a fight that has been rescheduled several times because of canceled cards. “I wasn’t really sure until the ticket was in my hand, but, of course, you stay training because (UFC president) Dana White is crazy and he makes things happen.”

The bout is part of an ESPN card headlined by a welterweight fight between Gilbert Burns and former champion Tyron Woodley.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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