Nov 17, 2023, 06:24AM

The Work of Mackenzie Dern

For grappling ace Mackenzie Dern, there’s easier money to be made outside MMA. Perhaps it’s time she seeks it out.

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Mackenzie Dern's rise through the ranks of Brazilian jiu-jitsu was nothing short of meteoric, the very essence of a grappling wunderkind. She’s the daughter of tough-as-nails Wellington "Megaton" Dias, a name that echoes through the sport of BJJ with reverential awe. Dern etched her name in the annals of grappling glory, winning multiple championships and defying the odds in successful openweight bouts against the likes of steroidal Gabi Garcia. Yet, as her transition to the octagon of MMA unfolded, a different story began to emerge—one of potential unfulfilled and expectations unmet.

Before delving into the technical breakdown of her disastrous recent bout with Andrade, it’s important to Dern's MMA journey to date. Her life outside the octagon reads like a crappy screenplay—a degree of Instagram stardom she still hasn’t exploited on OnlyFans like Paige VanZant, an acrimonious divorce from a surfboarder husband she allegedly assaulted, alimony woes, and several brushes with Silicon Valley royalty in the form of a budding relationship with surprisingly competent BJJ competitor and Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg. This eclectic mix of personal and professional endeavors paints a picture of a fighter at the crossroads of multiple identities: a world-class grappler, a social media persona flirting with the fleeting glitz of Instagram fame, and a curious visitor in the high-tech corridors of power.

Her clash with the doughty, thick-necked Andrade was more than just a bout; it was a microcosm of her career trajectory. Dern's approach in the opening stanza was a cocktail of ambition and hesitation. Her jab and front kicks, rather than assertive statements, seemed like tentative probes, an attempt to find her range against the poker-faced advance of the fearless former UFC bantamweight champion. As the round progressed, Dern's largely futile attempts at grappling dominance—her bread and butter—were met with Andrade's scrambling prowess, a testament to the latter's preparedness for Dern's ground game.

The striking exchanges laid bare the chinks in the BJJ star’s armor. Though heavily-muscled and in the best shape of her career, Dern’s liabilities in striking weren’t just technical but also psychological. Each exchange, each punch absorbed seemed to chip away at her confidence, leaving her wide-eyed and reactive, unable to enter the flow state that had served her well in her prior bout against skilled yet pillow-fisted gatekeeper Angela Hill. Andrade's punishing leg kicks weren’t just attacks on Dern's physique but on her game plan, slowly dismantling her approach and exposing the gaps in her shaky transition from grappling to a well-rounded MMA game.

The second round was a continuation of Andrade's strategic dissection of Dern's game. Dern's attempts at offensive flurries were met with cool, calculated counters from Andrade. The stark contrast in their striking acumen was glaring. Dern's forays into the striking realm seemed more like a grappler out of her element rather than a well-rounded fighter. Andrade's finishing flurry, meanwhile, was not just a physical overpowering but also a symbolic representation of Dern's struggles in MMA—a grappler extraordinaire with a chin of granite, yet a mixed martial artist forever in the making, an almost-is who may never be.

Dern's story is one of unfulfilled potential, not for lack of talent—she’s a physical specimen, and appears to have sacrificed Instagram clout for increased muscle mass—but perhaps for a lack of singular focus. Her tumultuous life outside the cage seems to have diluted her focus inside the cage, and that’s saying something given the extraordinary weight misses that defined the earlier part of her MMA career. The question naturally arises: What path does Dern wish to tread? Does she aspire to the cold, calculated ferocity of a seasoned MMA fighter, or does her heart lie in the more glamorous world outside the octagon? If I were her, I’d take the OnlyFans money in half of a split second, but I’m a lazy man who has always preferred the easy and sure thing to the hard and uncertain one.

This recent defeat at the hands of Andrade is more than a blemish on her record; it's a clarion call for introspection. The world of MMA is unforgiving and significantly underpaid, a realm where only ascetics and obsessives like current UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland can ascend to the zenith. For Dern, a crossroads beckons—a choice between embracing the disciplined, often monastic path of a fighter seeking redemption or continuing to juggle multiple identities, with the risk of becoming a cautionary tale in a sport that waits for no one.

Mackenzie Dern's journey in MMA is a narrative still being written. Her recent loss to Andrade encapsulates her current predicament—a one-note grappling genius still struggling to find her footing in the multidimensional world of MMA, Ryan Hall with an ambiguous, ever-shifting accent and a more substantial social media following. At this juncture, the choices she makes henceforth will not just shape her career but also define her legacy in a sport that has little room for anything but absolute commitment. God has his plans and Mackenzie Dern has hers, but rarely do the twain intersect. For Dern, like nearly all of the rest of us, happiness and emotional content are likely to be little more than nice-to-have things you miss by mere moments at some appointed destination. 


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