Mackenzie Dern spoke with BJPenn.com’s Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio Sunday night as she closes in on two high-level Brazilian jiu jitsu competitions in the World Jiu Jitsu Championships this Saturday and her superfight with Michelle Nicolini at Metamoris 2 on June 9.
Dern, one of the most highly decorated American women competing in jiu jitsu today, is set to face Nicolini in the first women’s superfight at a Metamoris event. For Mackenzie, the Metamoris fight will mean a match unlike any other- a submission-only match that is one 20-minute round- a challenge she accepts with enthusiasm.
“I’m so excited!” said Dern. “I mean, it’s hard. A lot of people ask me or other athletes that are competing in Metamoris and the Worlds together, they’re like, ‘Man, how do you do it?’ Because they’re two completely different events, you know, one is where I may do 4 matches that are submissions and points and all different things; and the other one is just the one match, but it’s 20 minutes, and it’s just submission. Two different completely events. They’re like, ‘Man, one week after the other, no break or anything.’ I’m just like, ‘It’s an opportunity, you got to take it while you can.’ The Worlds is the biggest tournament of the year for the IBJJF, so I mean I’m always training my strongest for the Worlds, so I figured it would be easy for me just to keep training that one extra week for the Metamoris.”
As her preparation for these two competitions comes to a close, Dern reflects on her opponent, Michelle Nicolini. The Brazilian native is someone to whom Mackenzie has looked up to since she was young.
“I think that’s why Metamoris is so cool,” she explained, “because I used to look up- I still look up to Michelle Nicolini as an athlete and a competitor, and I used to look up to her since I was little. Now that we’re fighting, it’s definitely like an old generation-new generation that’s going to happen at the fight. Nowadays, like I said, I look up to Michelle Nicolini for how much she’s evolved, because a lot of people who have been competing since she’s been competing have stopped, you know, or are going on to different things- like Kyra is doing more television and stuff like that. So it’s just incredible how she’s [Michelle] evolved so much, and nowadays she’s doing the same game that the newer generation is doing. She’s definitely a good role model for me, we have a similar game.”
That jiu jitsu game Mackenzie speaks of is an aggressive pressure always looking to improve position and find open submissions, and because of this, she thinks the Metamoris rules will allow for her upcoming superfight to bring nothing but excitement.
“I think me and her, we both have an aggressive game, so just like opening it up and having it just submission and no points is definitely going to make it more aggressive. And, you know, you’re not really thinking about [having] to take care of a position or anything, it’s just go, go, go; and just see if you can get the submission. I think it’s definitely going to be fun, and I think it’s definitely going to be a more dangerous fight.”
Mackenzie credits her style of jiu jitsu to her father and renowned 5th-degree black belt, Wellington “Megaton” Dias.
“Basically,” Mackenzie said of her father, “he’s kind of the same way. He was a big push for me to fight in the Metamoris, he thought it was a good idea for me to do it. I mean, I’m so old school, they’re like, they go in the tournaments and it’s like, ‘Pass the guard, get the back and choke or get the armbar.’ It’s not like, you know, ‘OK, let’s try and win the fight by one advantage.’ Which isn’t wrong, I mean that’s strategy, but for an event-wide that’s so exciting to see, he was definitely pumped up. He was like, ‘This is going to be such a good opportunity,’ and he definitely liked the idea of having no points.”
Although the Metamoris superfights will not be scored with the traditional system of points (for takedowns, passes, etc.), the organization will implement judging for matches that last the whole 20 minutes. For Dern, she is not really concerned about the fight lasting the whole time, but rather remains focused on getting a submission.
“From what I saw I don’t think they had the judges, because there were at least two matches that were tied. So I think this year that’s going to be a new thing, but like you guys said before, no one wants to fight just to get a tie. I think me and Michelle, we’re both going in there to win. So let’s see who will get the finish.”
Mackenzie’s path to Metamoris began when she was a child, training with her father all around the US and in other countries. More often than not, Dern spent the summer with her father in Brazil, meeting plenty of new friends and continuing to learn jiu jitsu.
“Everywhere that my dad would take me to train, like at Royler’s academy, I would be a little kid making trouble while they were training for the Worlds at their academy. With my dad there, he always showed me the good side of Brazil, like Ipanema and the beach and everything, and not the hard side. Brazil for me was always the best experience. With my family, we have a lot of my dad’s side of the family down there. I always went there all the time, then I started going always by myself and staying with my family, and I always got to go and train. It’s actually kind of funny, because as a kid growing up, most of the kids don’t leave the country until they’re out of high school and want to go explore the world. I mean by 16 years old, I had been to Brazil, Europe, South Africa, all over the world [and to] Japan, so it was a good learning experience, you know. Obviously school is perfect, school’s great, but there’s so much you can learn too by traveling the world and by meeting so many people; jiu jitsu has shown me so many people, you make so many new friends. It’s just awesome, I had a great childhood. I loved it!”
Being raised by a world-renowned black belt was rewarding, albeit it challenging. Mackenzie recalled with laughter her father’s unique enforcement of good behavior.
“If I did something wrong in training or at school growing up, he would be like, ‘OK, let’s go train,’ and he’d train with me and just kick my butt. I’d be like, ‘Oh gosh, I know I did something wrong.’ That was kind of instead of a spanking, it’s like, okay, armbar or choke, that kind of stuff. It was just the way that I grew up… I definitely know the lighter side of him, but I’ve seen him like you say, closing the doors of seminars and just harsh, you know what I mean. I’m so glad that I’m daddy’s little girl. Even my boyfriend, he like showed some guns to my boyfriend, like, ‘Hey, you’re dating my daughter, here’s some guns’… Two years later, they’re definitely still competitive. The first time they ever trained with each other, they trained like ten times in a row. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I should call time out, or what,’ they were just going at it.”
Mackenzie’s boyfriend, fellow black belt Taquinho Mendes, has trained with her for years; and the two even won the Copa Podio, the first ever couples jiu jitsu match.
“It’s just great to have- at least at the black belt [level], where we do seminars and travel all the time to compete- it’s really good to have someone who has the same lifestyle as you. Because a lot of people know that jiu jitsu isn’t just a one-time thing; it’s definitely a lifestyle that you have to commit to. You have to have diets, we go through the same diets. I definitely understand him, you know, when he’s a little cranky because he has to lose a lot of weight; or he understands me. We just travel, you know, doing what we do, it’s our jobs. We have to go compete or do seminars and stuff like that. It’s good to have someone who’s always on the same track as you.”
Though she is only 20 years old, Mackenzie Derns has been around the sport of jiu jitsu her entire life, enough time where she can be seen as old-school in both her style and her knowledge of the sport. It’s only logical that the athlete, who still has a long competitive career ahead of her, holds a unique perspective on the future of the sport.
When asked about the future of Brazilian jiu jitsu, including a possible indoctrination of the sport into the Olympics, Mackenzie replied, “It’s hard, you know, because of course I and anyone, everyone who does jiu jitsu would love to see jiu jitsu in the Olympics, and for all these athletes to be able to have an Olympic medal and all these things.
“Personally I think that the way for jiu jitsu to get into the mainstream is going to be through events like what Ralek’s doing, kind of similar to the UFC and stuff like that, just because, for now, to be in the Olympics you need so many countries, and it’s still such a Brazilian dominated sport that even the countries that have jiu jitsu, their instructors, or most of the black belts, are Brazilian citizens that live in other countries. So it would kind of be just like an Olympics of mostly Brazilians, even representing the other countries. I think it would still take a while to get enough of each country to get their team of black belts and everything to fight in the Olympics. I personally hope one day that it will get big enough, but I think definitely the way through like Metamoris events and stuff like that, that’s going to be the route for jiu jitsu.”
Of course, Mackenzie now finds herself along that very route, preparing for her own Metamoris superfight on June 9. The pressure, you could say, is real.
“I think probably Ronda [Rousey] and Michelle [Nicolini] and basically any girl who started a whole new thing for girls like she did in MMA or like this is now for super fights for women; you kind of feel a responsibility. I’m sure Michelle feels it too, we want to kind of show a good fight and show what we have, you know what I mean, just so they can keep having these great super fights, because they’re so much that girls can offer too. I think it’s going to be such a great opportunity for us to show, and I hope everyone will like it!”
Be sure to watch the Metamoris 2 competition on June 9.
You can listen to the entire episode of Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio here or in the player below.
Tags: ibjjf, Mackenzie Dern, megaton bjj, megaton dias, metamoris, Metamoris 2, metamoris ii, michelle nicolini, mma, MMA NEWS, Olympics, Ronda Rousey