(Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt Competitor Mackenzie Dern | Photo GracieMag)
By Elias Cepeda
[Ed. note: This is the second in a series of interviews with the fighters and promoters behind Metamoris II: Gracie vs. Aoki, which goes down June 9th in Los Angeles. Stay tuned for more, and follow Metamoris on Facebook and Twitter for important event updates. You can purchase tickets right here.]
I’ve got two stories about Rickson and Royler Gracie black belt Wellington “Megaton” Dias. One is a first-hand story and the other was passed on to me through others in the gym when I was growing up. Both are short and teach a simple lesson – “Megaton” is a skilled, mean, junkyard dog.
During the summer of 2000, I went to Los Angeles to watch the second Rickson Gracie International Jiu Jitsu Invitational. There were tournaments for all belt levels as well as “super fights” between black belt stars of the day. Dias took part in one of those featured bouts against another black belt. It is just as well that I don’t remember his opponent’s name because I’m sure he doesn’t enjoy this story being told. In short, Dias made that other elite black belt look like an amateur - putting him on his back, keeping him there, and basically toying with the guy from mount for the majority of the scrap. In short, it kinda looked like this. It was almost a worse way of losing than getting submitted in ten seconds. Dias dominated his nameless opponent for an entire match. Dias’ display is still the best single argument for a slaughter rule in Jiu Jitsu matches that I’ve ever seen.
The second-hand story I know of “Megaton” goes roughly like this; the Brazilian was brought to a Midwest town to conduct a Jiu Jitsu seminar — the timeframe escapes me. The people who paid the seminar fee more than likely did so because of Dias’ renowned skills, in hopes that the Professor would teach them some tricks. How wrong they were.
You see, a large part of what makes any champion a champion is their toughness, physical as well as mental. “Megaton” was there to teach the students that, first and foremost. He ran drill after drill, exercise after exercise, for hour after hour, until some attendees began to get exhausted, nauseous and dizzy, the story goes.
It was too much. They wanted to stop.
That’s when some began to literally head for the gymnasium door in order to escape this unexpected Jiu Jitsu hell. “Megaton” locked the doors and yelled at the participants to keep on training. There were no survivors.
I recently sat down with Mackenzie Dern, a pretty twenty year-old woman who happens to be “Megaton’s” daughter, as well as a fellow Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Before I even got into my “official” interview questions, I had to recount those stories of her father and ask – was that “Megaton” — the one who yelled at and drove seminar attendees nearly mad with exhaustion, the one I’ve also heard used to be fond of smacking students with a stick during class — the same that she knows simply as “Dad?”
Mackenzie chuckles. “That’s my dad,” she says, “Being his daughter, I obviously get the nicer side of him. But that’s who he is and everyone knows it.”
The admission is made by the Gracie Humaita black belt without hesitation or reservation, with the type of confidence and security that can only come from the knowledge that her dad’s methods work, plain and simple. It is also a claim that somewhat conceals her own intense passion and drive for perfection in fighting — a passion that began at just fourteen years old.
“About the time high school started, you have teachers and counselors encouraging you to think about what you are good at and what you want to do for a career,” she remembers. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized Jiu Jitsu was what I wanted to do. College could wait.”
Dern committed to that decision and gave up any chance she had for a “normal” childhood and adolescence. She dove into her training, splitting time between her home in the United States at her father’s academy and Brazil, where she often traveled for months at a time to receive extra training.
As her effort increased, the medals piled up. Dern became a world champion all the way from blue belt to the brown belt level and then earned her black belt while still a teenager. This is her first full year as a black belt Jiu Jitsu competitor. From now on, Dern will only face the best of the best. She’s finally at the stage of her career that she dreamed of reaching when she made her decision as a high school student.
On June 9th, “Mini-Megaton” will face long-time black belt and multiple time world champion Michelle Nicolini in a super match at Metamoris II in Los Angeles, CA. Mackenzie says she feels the excitement and pressure from the opportunity.
“This is really my first super fight on my own as a black belt, and I’m so excited that they offered me the opportunity,” she says.
“I’m also glad that they decided to have women fighters on the card. It is definitely a special honor and responsibility. I hope we go out there and do well so they don’t say, ‘Man, the girls stunk, we don’t want to have them on the show again [laughs].’”
Dern may talk of nerves, and there’s no doubt she has them, but she also speaks with the calm of someone who has been competing and winning internationally for years. Sometimes you can’t help whether you win or lose but you can control how hard you go for victory.
One look past her sweet tone and to her fight tapes (some highlights of which we’ve placed below) and it is obvious that Mackenzie Dern goes for the kill on the mats. She’s spins, whirls, and drives forward with great connection and pressure, constantly looking for chokes or limbs to crank.
In Metamoris, as opposed to most other submission grappling competitions, the only way to win is by submission. There are no points and no judges’ decisions.
“The rules suit me well,” Dern says.
“I’m not worried about the matches being longer, I welcome it. But the biggest thing to me is that it is submission only. That’s what I’ve always been trained to do – go for the finish – and that’s what I’m going to do this time around.”