LAS VEGAS — Maycee Barber has never been one to go along with the crowd. The UFC flyweight has done things her way from the beginning of her mixed martial arts career and is, and always has been, unapologetic for it despite what anyone else may think.
Her nickname — “The Future” — and her oft-stated goal of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history has turned off many of her peers who sneer at the audacity of an athlete with five fights daring to enter the UFC and call herself the future.
And when Barber, who was better than a 10-1 favorite to defeat Roxanne Modafferi in her last fight, was pummeled by the easy-going veteran to suffer her first loss, many of Barber’s fellow fighters expressed their glee at her demise.
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Flyweight contender Lauren Murphy, never one to bite her tongue, posted in all caps in a since-deleted tweet, “GET OFF THE F***ING MIC YOU SPOILED BRAT,” when Barber grabbed the microphone from Joe Rogan in the Octagon at UFC 246 before Rogan interviewed Modafferi.
As Barber inches closer to her return to the cage on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) against Alexa Grasso at UFC 258 after undergoing ACL surgery on her left knee following the loss to Modafferi, Barber essentially shrugs at the criticism.
And while she spent her day Wednesday doing interviews in which she had to recount over and over in excruciating detail her loss to Modafferi, she was wholly nonplussed by it.
When it was mentioned to her that she had to be sick of being asked what happened against Modafferi and that she must be different from the others for not being bothered, she said there aren’t a lot of similarities between her and other fighters.
“I’m different from everybody else in just about everything I do, I like to think,” said Barber, who is -105 at BetMGM against Grasso. “For me as a fighter, fighting is part of it but it’s not all of it. The whole thing is, we’re trying to sell like our true, our best selves overall in the career. For me it’s like, I don’t just want to be a fighter who people watch and say, ‘Oh, that’s a good fight. That’s a good fight.’ No. I want them to see the back story. I want them to see the ups, the downs, everything. You have to be willing to share that so they have something to follow.
“If you’re always hiding it and trying to keep it away, it’s hard for them to follow. It takes effort and some people don’t like to have to work that extra bit to figure things out. If you’re a little bit more open, I feel, it helps. It helps create the story. It helps them to be able to follow and it helps them to relate a little bit better. Part of our jobs as professional athletes is to share our entire career and share your story and being able to be open and be comfortable talking about uncomfortable things.”
If you’re wondering, Barber’s belief in herself is stronger than it’s ever been. She still believes she’ll be the youngest champion in UFC history. Jon Jones won the light heavyweight title when he was 23 years, eight months and one day old.
On Saturday, Barber will be 22 years, eight months and seven days, so she has about a year left to accomplish her goal.
She tore her ACL, she said, in the bout’s opening seconds, and proudly points out she was not finished despite that.
She said as she and coach Duke Roufus walked to the center of the ring for the final instructions, Roufus told her, “I want you to land a good, hard jab,” to open the fight.
“I went out in the orthodox position and I went to land a good, hard jab and I stepped on her foot,” Barber said. “She pulled her foot away and at that point, it popped.”
With the adrenaline going, the pain wasn’t intense, but her leg was very unstable. As the fight went on, the pain began to build.
She took a beating in perhaps the best performance of Modafferi’s career, but Barber never succumbed. And though it may seem that with that loss came a pierced air of invincibility, Barber insists that anyone who thinks that way is mistaken.
“I still am a threat to all these girls,” Barber said. “I fought through an injury and I continued to pose a threat. And I’ll continue to do that. I don’t think my intimidation or anything was pierced, and if people look at me less than, especially female fighters, if they view me as a lesser fighter because of that happening, then they’re very, very mistaken and they’re in for a rude awakening. If anything, it made me stronger. It made me hungrier and it made me meaner.”
She plans to show how mean she is in Saturday's fight. She said Grasso is solid with good striking, but she didn’t seem too concerned.
Her prediction on the fight speaks volumes to anyone who thought the loss to Modafferi may have changed her.
“Alexa has been broken before and I have seen that in her fights,” Barber said. “And I know that just based off of things that I have heard her say and do, I feel she’s a breakable fighter. I truly believe that my pressure and the grit that I have and, you know, the will that I have is going to break her. We’re ready and we’re prepared no matter what.”
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