ABU DHABI // Mackenzie Dern stunned the jiu-jitsu world by handing Gabrielle Garcia, the nine-time women’s world champion, her first defeat in the black belt category in more than five years.
Dern, 22, ended the burly Brazilian’s unbeaten run in the semi-finals on a penalty point en route to winning the absolute class from Vanessa Nascimento in the seventh Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
The bout between Dern and Garcia resembled a typical David versus Goliath contest on the mat. Garcia stood 1.88m tall and weighed over 90 kilogrammes in stark contrast Dern’s 55kg and 1.57m frame.
“I always believed in my abilities that I could defeat her, not just her but anybody on the right day,” said Dern.
“So when I saw I was leading on a penalty point over Gabby and the crowd getting behind me, I got more motivated.
“I am so happy and excited because this was the first time I won my weight division in five visits to Abu Dhabi, and to win the absolute class was just fantastic.
“In the previous visits, I either got to the finals, semi-final or quarter finals in my weight categories. This was the first time I won my weight division and first time in the absolute class.”
Dern had faced Garcia four times before her meeting last night at the IPIC Arena at Zayed Sports City.
“The last time I met her was in the absolute class final at the Pan American Games,” said Dern, who was runner-up in that competition.
“I try to do something different every time I meet Gabby. This time I used the collar and it helped me a lot, and I tried to tackle her knee bar because when I did that she didn’t attack me.
“That was my strategy against her this time. I attacked on the good times and did everything at the right time.”
Garcia was naturally disappointed but vowed she would return next year to take her title back.
“I was penalised for talking to my coach when I asked him about a point for a takedown that I should have been awarded,” she said after settling for a bronze medal against compatriot Beatrix Mesquita.
“That was not an issue, though, but I still thought I did enough to win more points to win this fight. However, I don’t want to take the sheen off Mackenzie’s win. She’s a skillful little fighter and I am happy for her.”
In the final, Dern had Nascimento well under her control with an early two-point lead and stretched that to 6-0, a margin she preserved until the end for a convincing win.
The Brazilian was a losing finalist for the second time after going down to Garcia in the 75kg-plus weight.
“I never fought Vanessa before but I know she was a tough opponent. I know she has a good guard so I tried to pull first and went for the leg locks,” said Dern.
“She defended well and then I swept her and I was able to catch the back. I tried to get the choke but my hands were so tired. I saw there was only a minute left and I didn’t want to lose my position.”
Dern was introduced to jiu-jitsu at the age of three by her father Wellington “Megaton” Dias – who runs a jiu-jitsu academy in Arizona – and was in competition at six.
She received her black belt at 19. “I grew up watching and learning at my dad’s academy. I presume jiu-jitsu runs in the family,” she said.
Dias said: “She had natural ability and what she has achieved was her own hard work.”
Dern will soon be headed for the Brazilian National Championships from May 1 to 3 and to the World Championships in California from May 27 to 31.
Marcus Almeida retained the men’s open title for a third year in succession with victory over Alexander Trans, which was a repeat of the 95kg-plus final.
The result was closer than their previous meeting on Thursday, with the California-based Brazilian winning by an advantage point to extend his record over the Dane to 7-0.
“It was harder than the first meeting two days ago,” Almeida said. “He adopted a different strategy and I couldn’t work my game plan, so I had to change my strategy during the fight.
“He almost got to his best positions and it was really hard for me from the beginning to the end. Somehow or the other, I drew all my energy to win by an advantage point.
“It was one of the toughest open titles to win.”
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