UFC Denver Under the Radar: Maycee Barber

UFC, Getty Images (Getty Images)

Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent who shows the potential for growth in their division and isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.

Name: Maycee Barber

Record: 5-0 overall, UFC debut

Division: Strawweight

Team: Fort Collins Martial Arts Academy

Carrying around the nickname “The Future” is an easy way to put pressure on yourself to succeed — or set yourself up for ridicule — but Maycee Barber has every intention of proving it’s an apt moniker.

The Fort Collins, Colorado resident has made her intentions clear: she wants to break Jon Jones’s record for being the youngest fighter to ever win gold in UFC history. Jones was 23 years and 242 days old when he defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to claim the light heavyweight title at UFC 128, meaning the 20-year-old Barber has roughly three years to rise to the top of the 115-pound weight class in order to accomplish her goal.

It’s a lofty target set for herself, but thus far, the talented UFC newcomer has shown that proven she’s deserving of the opportunity to compete in the Octagon and someone to keep tabs on in the strawweight division going forward.

She bested Invicta FC contender Mallory Martin in her sophomore appearance as a professional and earned her spot on the UFC roster this summer with a mature, patient stoppage victory over Jamie Colleen on the Contender Series.

While it was clear from the outset that Barber was the superior talent, she didn’t overextend or rush her offense in order to try and finish the fight earlier. Instead, the southpaw stayed within herself, pressing forward behind clean punches and a steady diet of kicks, out-muscling Colleen in the clinch, throwing elbows and controlling the action from the outset.

She showed a sound technical base, staying busy and doing the little things needed to dictate the terms of engagement and mixing her strikes, both in terms of what she offered and by attacking different levels.

As the fight wore on and Barber started pulling away, she didn’t let off the gas. Where some fighters, especially young, inexperienced competitors, may be inclined to play it safe, the unbeaten upstart continued to press forward and take the fight to Colleen, wearing her down and ultimately getting the finish with a series of punishing elbows from top position late in the third.

The wide-eyed neophyte benefits from having excellent coaching, working with former IFL competitor Ryan Schultz and respected boxing coach Matt Pena. The latter worked with former UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes for an extended period before guiding Robbie Lawler to the same title several years later. He briefly retired from coaching after Lawler retained his title in his epic clash against Rory MacDonald at UFC 189, but he was there in Barber’s corner this summer in Las Vegas and will be by her side this weekend as well.

Originally scheduled to face Maia Stevenson this weekend in what most viewed as a very favorable matchup for Barber, she will instead square off with fellow newcomer Hannah Cifers (8-2), who has twice as much professional experience and has shared the cage with UFC vets Heather Clark and Gillian Robertson, as well as regional veteran Celine Haga.

Unlike Stevenson, who was quickly submitted by Polyana Viana in her first Octagon appearance, Cifers will enter the cage on a five-fight winning streak, eager to halt Barber’s momentum and usurp her position as someone to watch going forward.

As much as a victory over Stevenson would have worked, taking on a tougher opponent and beating Cifers would do much more for Barber long term, even if more people are familiar with her original opponent than the woman she’ll face on Saturday night.

While plenty of fighters arrive in the UFC with championship aspirations and say all the right things about their dreams of being elite, one of the things Barber has working in her favor is that she is a next generation talent coming up at a time when there is room to grow and make major inroads in a short time on the female side of the sport.

Although envisioning Barber beating reigning champ Rose Namajunas, or current contenders like Jessica Andrade and Tatiana Suarez, right now is difficult, her upside is obvious when you watch her fight. With a couple years of facing off against quality competition and continued strong coaching, it’s not hard to forecast Barber becoming a fixture in the Top 10.

Whether she accomplishes her goal of breaking Jones’s record or ever becomes championship material is difficult to project before she’s ever stepped foot in the Octagon, but if things keep going the way they have, neither are out of the question.

Barber is as good a prospect as there is on the female side of the sport and one of the best prospects in MMA overall, so you’re not going to want to miss her Octagon debut this weekend in Denver.