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Mackenzie Dern is ready to make a UFC title run in 2021.
The opportunity to enter the top five came after Dern notched three consecutive wins, most recently a unanimous decision over former Invicta FC 115-pound champion Virna Jandiroba last December at UFC 256.
In October 2019, Dern returned just four months after giving birth to her daughter and lost for the first time in her professional career against Amanda Ribas. However, the loss forced Dern to make some changes, including the addition of boxing coach Jason Parillo, which has helped her improve her striking.
Like Dern, Ansaroff also is making a relatively quick return after recently giving birth to her first child. Though it’s only been six months since Ansaroff had her daughter, she hasn’t competed since June 2019. Dern likes the mom vs. mom narrative heading into the fight, but from personal experience, she’s expecting the time off to have an impact on Ansaroff’s performance in some form.
“For sure,” Dern told MMA Junkie. “I don’t think it’ll be a deciding factor like to win or lose, but I definitely think timing-wise and even just confidence-wise, I think she can be the most confident person ever because I know what it’s like. When you have a baby, you feel like you’re Wonder Woman, you feel great. But you don’t know how much better you’re gonna be 20 months from now like myself, for example. My daughter, she’ll be 2 in June, so when I fought four months after pregnancy, I felt I 100 percent did the best I could with everything I could at the time.
“But I had no idea how much of a better athlete I’ll be 20 months later. So I have an idea of what she’s going through, and I think the timing too. To be back 100 percent, getting punched in the face with four-ounce gloves, it’s different. Just being in the ring, in the fight, you get that feeling back. So I think she’s such a dangerous person and if there’s any time to fight her, it’s now, and I’m proud of her. I’m proud that she’s back fighting and us two having this fight as moms.”
While the time off could be a factor, Dern (10-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) knows she’s in for a tough fight with the gritty Ansaroff (10-6 MMA, 4-3 UFC). All of Dern’s stoppage wins have come by submission, and the grappling ace is eyeing another finish.
“I think it’s typical striker vs. grappler,” Dern said. “I prefer it like that. I think when it’s striker and grappler, the striker is way more fish out of the water, so it’s a little bit easier for me to throw a lot of submissions, attacks and things like that. Maybe they can defend one or two, but when they don’t have a really big background on the ground, you can end up catching them sooner or later. But Nina, she’s a little bit different than a regular striker because her takedown defense is so good. She has a really high takedown defense. She has good reflexes and things like that, so I’m hoping her timing is a little bit off on that, but I doubt it.
“No one goes into a fight unprepared, so I know she’s gonna be on point with her takedown defense, and that’s where Parillo Boxing comes in, just to have me meld everything together: my striking with my takedowns with my ground game. So I think the way to win this fight is the submission. I don’t want to go three rounds again like my last fight even though it was lots of fun. Like I said, I want to try and get to the belt soon, this year hopefully, so the less damage possible, the quicker I can get back into camp. I can keep climbing the rankings and try to get the belt. So I think a submission in the first round is the way to go.”
With the top of the strawweight division currently booked, a win over Ansaroff would place Dern in a pivotal position. She’s ready to make a run at the title and hopes she can cap off 2021 with the belt around her waist.
“I think one or two fights,” Dern said. “If I win and everything goes good, for me, the next fight I don’t know who it will be – Rose or Zhang Weili or Carla Esparza or Yan Xiaonan. There are a lot of things happening in the top five, but for me I feel ready. But I know for sure my coaches want maybe one or two more fights just to be ready to be the champ and not having surprises, show the part. Maybe I can be the champ because I have a lot of heart, and I work hard, but we want to be champ and everyone can see like, ‘OK, she’s meant to be champ.'”