The Enigma Of Mackenzie Dern And Putting The Battery Pack On Potential UFC Stars

Mackenzie Dern has everything the UFC executives drool over. She has the face, she has the talent, and she has a country. Most importantly, she has a zero in her loss column.

Yet with the UFC doing everything in their power to convert her into an instant-grits star, shenanigans and tomfoolery surround her. It seems she simply can't get out of her own way.

A few days removed from handling her business versus Amanda Bobby Cooper at UFC 224, many pundits and prognosticators would be thinking about what's next for the crowned phenom in women's MMA. Before the halfway point in the first round, Dern flashed impressive striking ability (both offensive and defensive) and knocked down Cooper with a slick overhand right before locking in an efficient rear naked choke.

Dern is one of the finest jiu-jitsu practitioners of all-time, trained by parents who were world class jiu-jitsu grapplers. That discipline alone makes it a possibility for her to claim UFC gold. An added ability to do damage with her hands and feet could turn her into a superstar.

Yet her background simply won't allow me to focus on anything she's done inside the Octagon. Let's list out some issues:

Repeatedly Missing Weight

The Brazilian fighter went home to fight at UFC 224 and proceeded to step onto the scale seven pounds over the 115-pound limit, causing Cooper to call her 'a disgrace'. In a time where women's divisions are separated by 10 pounds in the UFC, to have someone as talented as Dern consistently come in almost a full weight class higher is preposterous.

What's more preposterous? The reason she gave as to why she was overweight, stating that her switching of camps affected her weight cut. Insert a thinking face emoji here while we move onto point two that will make this even more wild.

Being Cut From Your Fight Gym

A few weeks before Dern was supposed to fight at UFC 224, news broke that the former jiu-jitsu world champion was asked to leave the MMA Lab, a world-class gym in Arizona. MMA Lab is home to prestigious fighters like former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, sixth-ranked John Moraga and another rising undefeated prospect in 'Sugar' Sean O'Malley.

Her reasoning of wanting to "be able to be on the beach and relax and miss to be on the mats and want to be on the mats," sounds reasonable. For one, she's been on the mats since age three, and when you've been doing anything for that long you'll have preferences on how you want to do things. For two, living in California is awesome, as I can attest to it being quite fun.

Whoops. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)

However, deciphering the message breaks down to someone not training as hard as their peers in the eyes of the coaches at the gym. Most coaches will give a longer leash to top talents, but to outright ask someone to leave with the ceiling as high as Dern's signals a major red flag.

Then she came out and missed weight for the third time in six strawweight bouts and implied that the beach life (that you publicly stated you wanted) was the cause for your flawed weight cut. Having certain ways you want to do things is understandable, but you can't have it both ways when people are trying to hold you accountable and you constantly miss weight because you were undisciplined. It doesn't work that way.

Accent Outta Nowhere

I've lived in four distinctly different regions of the country in my life (The great plains of Oklahoma, midwestern Ohio, northern California and southern California), and I've picked up various slang terminology, colloquialisms and mannerisms from each place. However, I'm born and raised from Oklahoma, and I still have the same twang that I had when I relocated from Oklahoma over a decade ago.

I say all that to say, how in the world does someone who was born and raised in Arizona and went through her formative years with no accent suddenly enter their twenties with a full Brazilian accent?

There was a viral story where a woman suffered a severe brain injury and for a year she was unable to speak. When she regained her speech, it came with a new Scottish accent. Later, she was diagnosed by doctors with foreign accent syndrome, a rare ailment with only 100 reported cases.

Karin Humphries, an associate professor at McMaster University, studied similar cases and noted that many foreign accent syndrome cases stem from acute brain injuries, either from trauma to the head or a stroke.

Dern has been participating in MMA for over two decades, so maybe she's afflicted with a similar issue and she doesn't know it. Or she's doing it on purpose. It's either an unfortunate side-effect of the job or extremely weird.


News emerged recently that Dana White's people reached out to Dern's people that the UFC Performance Institute is available and that she should make use of it. Immediately. The Performance Institute is an immaculate facility located at UFC headquarters in Las Vegas and will provide any fighter a cutting-edge training center that provides support for their health, training and advice on nutrition and weight cutting.

White knows what's at stake with Dern, as she has the potential to be the next Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg or Rose Namajunas. To be fair to Dern, who recently turned 25 in March, she's only seven fights into her MMA life and we could look back years from now and appreciate the maturation and evolution of a career where she holds multiple championship belts for the premier MMA promotion of our time and has a future outside of the Octagon.

The Mack. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Finding the right weight class, coach, gym and lifestyle is critical for any fighter. If she finds the right formula, it's feasible that we could see MMA betting guides creating odds her getting a title shot by the end of next year.

However, this serves as a reminder that the cultivation of talent in the UFC is a constant challenge. With a new TV deal with ESPN now inked beginning in 2019, the UFC will have improved cash flow and there's a chance that fighter pay will improve as a result. (However, the UFC still does not have a bargaining agreement with its fighters that dictates how much of the revenue the athletes are entitled to.) The UFC's investment in the Performance Institute has received positive reviews as fighters like Francis N'Gannou and Kevin Lee have moved to Las Vegas used the facilities repeatedly, and both have received title shots in the last six months. Yet, injuries and missed weigh-ins are curveballs that cancel fights left and right on cards every weekend, and the UFC cannot afford to miss on potential home runs with a new network, recently-installed new ownership and a fanbase with evolving taste now coming into play.

White knows how important Dern could be to the promotion's future, and Dern knows that her ultimate goal is to win UFC gold. The UFC will continue to do everything in their power to keep Dern fast-tracked as fight fans wait with baited breath to see where her ceiling truly is.

To get to where she has to go, Dern simply has to figure out how to get out of her own way.

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