Stretch your mind back to the start of 2020. UFC 246 was about to take place and all the talk was about the return of Conor McGregor.
That card was more successful for the Irishman than the beginning of 2021, but another fighter looking to change their fortunes from one year to the other is young Maycee Barber.
The then 21-year-old was being tipped for the top of the game, with her goal to become the youngest champion in UFC history. What occurred on the night though was a huge shock to many.
As she came up against wily veteran Roxanne Modafferi in the featured prelim bout, the consensus was that she’d be too strong and too powerful for Modafferi and be able to knock her out and put a statement out there. Instead though, we saw a totally different fight.
In the first round, Barber got caught a couple of times by the right hand of Modafferi and once she got taken down it was one-sided on the ground. Modafferi was able to pass into guard and land some nice ground and pound strikes. The game plan from then on was simple for Barber, stay on the feet.
That plan was ruined almost immediately in the second round though when a jab grazed her and as she stepped back her knee buckled and she fell to the ground. Modafferi dominated on the ground from top position once again for the majority of the round, opening up a huge cut on the side of Barber’s head with a vicious elbow. As they stood for the end of the round, Barber was limping heavily and it was clear she was in trouble.
The doctor examined her knee between rounds and told the referee that she had a minor partial tear to her ACL and she was fine to continue. In truth, she could put no weight on her leg and could barely stand and Modafferi did her a favour by taking her down again in the third and beating her up.
Barber showed tremendous toughness throughout the fight, refusing the give up despite the clear injury and she took her beating humbly – even if her dad didn’t.
That “minor partial tear” to her ACL turned out to be full tear of her ACL and she didn’t fight again for the rest of the year. She is now fully recovered though and after a change of camps will fight Alexa Grasso at UFC 258.
Only 22-years-old, the first defeat of her career would’ve been a hard one to swallow but her confidence won’t have been shaken too much. She will see it simply as a part of the game, she was beaten by the injury rather than by her opponent.
A win over Grasso will get right back in the mix and she will be surely be keen to make up for lost time in her quest to become the youngest champion in history. By the time the fight takes place, she will have a year to win the belt to take over from Jon Jones as the youngest champion in history.
The timeline seems too short considering the strength of the division, but with her skillset you can never say never in the world of MMA. She has excellent striking technique and genuine knockout power, which is rare in the women’s game.
You have to hope that in the year she’s been away that she’s been able to work on her ground game a bit too, but even then losing out to Modafferi on the ground isn’t something to be ashamed of – it’s where she shines.
The likelihood of becoming the youngest champion ever is highly unlikely, but becoming a champion is definitely not out of her reach. At UFC 258 she gets back on the horse and starts working her way up the ladder once again.