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Maycee Barber returns for UFC 258, focused on winning title

Rising UFC women’s flyweight prospect Maycee Barber still has the countdown clock on her phone, even if it takes a few more clicks to find it.

Ever since she burst onto the scene as an undefeated 20-year-old who earned a UFC contract with a knockout win on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018, Barber has been focused on achieving her goal of becoming the youngest champion in the organization’s history.

She would often oblige requests to see the clock that constantly counted down to Jan. 18, 2022, the date she targeted as a deadline to win the belt and break Jon Jones’ record of 23 years, 8 months.

Barber has an iPhone now, and the countdown feature takes a bit more navigating on the phone. And her path to reaching that goal has been met with obstacles.

Now 22, Barber will fight Saturday for the first time since suffering a torn ACL and her first loss on the same night: Jan. 18, 2020.

“I’m glad I got the injury,” said Barber, who will fight Alexa Grasso in the co-main event of UFC 258 at the Apex in Las Vegas. “I want to say that 2020 went exactly how it was supposed to. It may not have been beautiful all the time, but there were a lot of lessons, a lot of growth and a lot of things I am so thankful for.”

It took awhile for Barber to come to that epiphany. She suffered the knee injury early in her fourth UFC fight, against veteran Roxanne Modafferi, and hobbled through a one-sided decision loss in one of the biggest upsets of the year.

The loss was a setback on Barber’s fast track to the belt. And the recovery process after undergoing surgery was made even tougher because she was cooped up at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I went from training every day of my life since I was 3 years old and being active to not even being able to walk without crutches,” she said. “It was like, ‘What am I supposed to do with myself?’ So it was challenging at first, but then it got easier, because as I got healthier, I was able to go to physical therapy and I had more distractions. It became just obsessing over becoming stronger and better and just healthy again.”

Now that she is ready to fight again, she’s not about to alter the original plan of winning a title by this time next year.

Barber has called out contender Joanne Calderwood and thinks a win Saturday on the biggest stage of her career will give her that opportunity. Then she thinks she is a win away from a title shot.

It’s ambitious, but Barber never has listened to critics. She took a lot of heat on social media after the loss but said it didn’t bother her.

“People on the outside are always going to have something to say,” she said. “The only thing that matters is they have something to say. I want to make people have an opinion. I didn’t care if it was good or bad, I was like, ‘Hey, they’re commenting on me, so we’re good.’”

The Colorado native, who now trains in Chicago, knows she welcomed it by being so brash about her goals.

“If you keep your goals and ambitions hidden, it just means you’re not confident in them,” she said. “I’m very confident in mine. I’m always going to speak it out. You should want everyone to know, because that keeps you accountable.”

The bout is part of a pay-per-view card headlined by a welterweight title fight between Gilbert Burns and champion Kamaru Usman. The main card starts at 7 p.m.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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