When UFC strawweight Michelle Waterson signed a deal in 2017 with the same Endeavor agent as Ronda Rousey, it was clear the promotion was hoping to build her into a star. At the time, Waterson made it her goal to become the first UFC ‘mom champ,’ aka the first woman with children to win a UFC belt.
Unfortunately, loses to Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres immediately after threw that goal into doubt. Her two most recent fights with Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Carla Esparza also earned “The Karate Hottie” losses, putting her far away from that dream.
The new frontrunner for first UFC mom champ? Mackenzie Dern.
Dern bounced back from the only loss in her MMA career (a decision loss to Amanda Ribas in October of 2019) with an impressive first round kneebar submission of Hannah Cifers at UFC on ESPON: Woodley vs. Burns on Saturday night. It was the first leglock submission in women’s UFC history, and while that’s cool, Dern really chasing that belt.
“It doesn’t really change too much,” Dern said when asked if her first win as a mother held a special place in her heart. “The victory is a victory. What makes it good is it was a leg lock and the first one in the women’s history. I think once I get the ‘mom belt’, the ‘mom champ’, then that will be okay. Now it’s a big difference.”
“That’s one of my specialties, I like leglocks a lot. You can look on YouTube, a lot of my jiujitsu matches it’s with that, so I was at home in that moment.”
Dern also said people were making more of her new mother status than she was, especially after her loss to Ribas in October.
“I think a lot of people were thinking ‘Oh maybe she doesn’t have the drive as much, maybe she’s a little more scared to get punches.’” Dern said. “A lot of things change when you’re a mom, of course, like hormones and all that. So it’s crazy to me, everyone asked me about my last fight, and it’s good because people see a lot of potential and they try to find an excuse why I lost my last fight. But I don’t have any excuse why I lost that fight, Amanda was better than me that day. I trained as hard as I could for that fight, it was nothing about being a mom ... I think it just gives me more strength. I’m just very proud to be a mom and in this sport and show that we are strong and we are the same.”
“My daugher’s my biggest motivation now, you know? Bigger than anything I can bring inside me. So I just see me even stronger.”
She also credited the Williams sisters in tennis for blazing a path for athlete mothers.
“I have a big inspiration,” Dern said. “Venus and Serena Williams, they conquered so much being moms. So it’s really good to see moms proving ourselves.”
And as for whether mom duties would keep her from fighting sooner rather than later? The Coronavirus pandemic may actually help her fight more because her pro surfer husband Wesley Santos will be home more to help.
“My husband, he’s a professional surfer so all his events, they’re cancelled til the end of the year,” Dern said. “So I definitely want to take advantage that he’s at home helping me with [my daughter]. Usually he’s a competitor so I’m always doing everything with him too, travelling with him, so it’s hard for me to stay on my routine at home. So I definitely want to take advantage that his events are off and I can stay with my daughter and train hard and ... Fight Island or whatever, get my win streak going.”