Mackenzie Dern insists she’s not feeling the pressure on the prospect of defending her 55kg black brown belt category title at the Abu Dhabi World Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship on Friday.
The 24-year-old black belt enters the tournament as the woman to beat and on the quest for a hat-trick after claiming gold in the capital for the last two editions.
She opens against Belgium’s Amal Amjahid in the first round and the American is relishing the opportunity of returning to the venue where she picked up three golds in the last two years.
“I don’t feel the pressure at all,” she said. “For me it’s fun. Everyone is excited and am happy to be here in Abu Dhabi and I will just go out there and do my best.
“The opening bout is always tough you see. Amal is brown belt and she has nothing to lose and such contests like this are tricky. She will be giving it everything and you have to be wary about that.”
— Denzil M Pinto (@denz_360) April 19, 2017
One of the new rule changes means no category can consists of more than two competitors from the same nation.
Dern, who made headlines in 2015 for handing Gabrielle Garcia a first defeat in five years en route to Open weight gold, believes that will work in her favour.
“The Brazilians will have to go through the pre-trials and they will fight each other to get through. It will be okay for me though but it will be tougher for them I feel,” said the 5’3 inch star.
Besides jiu-jitsu, Dern has also been testing herself in the MMA with three victories out of three since her debut last July.
Considered a future star of UFC, she hinted bouts inside the cage could be a more regular thing from next year.
“The sport is getting harder by every passing year with lots of girls coming in,” she said. “This could well be my last full season and might only choose to compete in few Jiu Jitsu tournaments like the Abu Dhabi World Pro.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Martino Da Silva’s decision to travel to Abu Dhabi out of his own pocket paid off as the South African claimed gold in the Masters Purple 1 belt -77kg.
“I have been competing at the National trials since 2011 and I have never won the ticket (to come to Abu Dhabi), said the 32-year-old. “This year I thought I would pay myself to enter and travel here because there were a lot of entries taking part in the trials as it was a very tough competition.
“I’m just happy to have won and today was just my day.”
Jakub Zajkowski of Poland won Purple 85kg, while Sophie Cox of Britain claimed blue 62kg gold.
Training alone at Hamdan Sports Complex, it’s easy to spot UAE-born Serbian star Velimir Stjepanovic swim length after length.
“Just five more to go,” the 23-year-old tells me as I wait poolside to talk to him.
You wouldn’t guess by watching his rhythmic action in full flight, but for Stjepanovic, actually getting back into the pool and doing what he does best hasn’t been as easy as it looks in recent times.
Last August, the Dubai resident headed to the Rio Olympics with great expectation of winning a medal, but by his own admission, it was a big, big disappointment to come home from Brazil empty-handed.
Indeed, so much so, upon his return, he stepped away from the pool for more than three months and didn’t submerge into the water once.
2017 started off in the best way possible. I got married to the love of my life and best friend @jessicaolie on the 14th January. This is my absolute favourite picture of the day, but it still doesn't do the day justice as we celebrated with close family and friends, it was better than I could have ever pictured it. Thank you for standing by my side and being awesome and saying "I do". I love you, Jessica Olie.
The iconic boxer will be in the city to launch the Mike Tyson Academy (MTA) on Thursday May 4.
Tyson will attend a press conference at Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa to announce his latest business venture, which will see a host of fitness centres link-up with his academy.
Are you looking forward to seeing the Iron in the UAE?
I'll be in Dubai May 4th for press conference to announce a new international business venture, franchise fitness centers called @miketysonacademy. Press conference will take place at the monumental Burj Khalifa. For any additional information add my biz partner @fredfrenchy #presscon #burjkhalifa #mydubai #fitnesscenter #franchise #miketysonacademy #launch #international #eliteoffitness