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Rising UFC star Maycee Barber eyes title shot by end of year

Updated January 16, 2020 - 7:49 pm

Every time rising UFC star Maycee Barber looks at her phone, she sees a countdown clock ticking away the seconds until she turns 23 years, 8 months old.

It’s a reminder of the age light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was when he set a record that still stands as the youngest fighter to win a title in the organization.

Barber plans to put the belt around her waist long before that clock hits zero.

The undefeated 21-year-old flyweight seeks her fourth UFC victory when she meets veteran Roxanne Modafferi on Saturday in the featured preliminary bout of UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena.

“It’s not a race I’m rushing toward, but it’s something that’s going to happen,” she said Thursday of winning a title. “It’s something we’re continuing to put in work for. … I’m essentially in two camps in my mind because I’m constantly in a camp for the biggest fight of my life, which is a title shot.”

She thinks she will get one by the end of the year.

Barber is a minus 1,000 betting favorite over Modafferi, who had her first pro fight when Barber was a 5-year-old practicing soccer and karate after school.

“I certainly didn’t have any goals or ambitions to be a UFC fighter at the time, but that’s really neat for me to know I’m fighting someone who started at this so long ago and I’m fighting now,” Barber said. “It’s kind of a fight for the entire era.

“She’s a pioneer. She’s one of the very first to be in the sport. She’s fought everyone, so I’m really excited to just go in there and share the cage with her and finish her and show her and everyone else that I am the future.”

Modafferi, a 37-year-old Las Vegan who is ranked No. 7, two spots ahead of Barber, by the UFC despite three losses in her past five fights, isn’t willing to concede that her time has passed.

“She’s young and powerful,” Modafferi said. “Her technique is a little unrefined in certain ways, but she’s strong. She’s aggressive. Nowadays, fighters have become athletes and not just fighters. They’re going through full-time training in striking, grappling and conditioning, nutrition and all of that. I didn’t have that. I was just trying to find a job and fighting on the side. It’s a whole different world.

“She’s pretty good. But I’m better.”

Barber disagrees. She thinks she will win and set up a fight with a top-five opponent such as Jessica Eye or Joanne Calderwood in the next few months. That could put her in position to challenge for a title before the end of the year.

Barber has leaned into the hype with a strong social media presence and calculated bravado in interviews that have drawn some loose comparisons to Ronda Rousey. But she knows none of her marketing efforts will matter if she doesn’t win.

“It’s all part of the plan, but fighting is always going to be what sets me up for those opportunities,” she said. “That’s how I view it. I bumped from 8,000 followers to 80,000 after my first UFC fight.”

And her time is now, she said.

“At some point, the new generation has to take over,” Barber said. “Someday I’ll be at the end of my career, and it will happen to me. There’s always someone coming up who’s hungrier, someone who’s been training for longer. That’s just the way this world works.”

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

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