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Maycee Barber, 20, expects to be in ‘area’ of UFC title shot at this time next year

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If Maycee Barber’s early MMA career can be thought of as a series of exams, she put an X next to another one on the checklist after her most recent fight.

In her toughest fight to date, Barber, the loquacious, blue-chip prospect, finished JJ Aldrich by TKO in the second round last Saturday night at UFC Nashville. Barber was dropped in the first round and faced the most adversity she ever has in her still-young career. But she came back and stopped a very game opponent, who also happens to have a bright future ahead of her.

“I felt like I passed that test of, can you come back from a round that you already lost and not let it get under your skin?” Barber told Luke Thomas on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “And I also felt like I passed the test of, ‘Can she take a hit and get dropped?’ Not that we want to see that, but, ‘Can she take a hit, get dropped and come back from that?’ … It was good to see that I got hit a few times in the head and kept coming.”

Barber is just 20 years old and her dream of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history is still very much alive. She even has a countdown to the day when she’ll turn the same age Jon Jones was when he set that record in 2011. But Barber also said she won’t be tremendously hasty. She still has almost three years until that date comes around, after all.

At this time next year, Barber said she expects to be in the mix for a title shot, in either the flyweight or strawweight division. The Colorado native beat Aldrich in her UFC debut at 125 pounds, but expects to also have a future at 115.

“One year from today, I will be almost 22 and I will definitely be in that area for a title fight,” Barber said. “Sometime within that year, for sure. So, that’s something that’ll probably be popping up at some point. Maybe sooner, maybe not. I’m not trying to rush a title shot at all. I’d like to continue to keep this success.”

Barber (7-0) believes she has a leg up on her young fighter peers in terms of focus. She’s not about to run out and buy lavish things for herself with the prize money she’s made thus far in the UFC. Nor does she expect that to change as the fight purses get bigger and bigger. Barber’s plan is to invest that cash back into her MMA career.

“I’m not the kind of person that when I’m having more success, I’m gonna take it and be like, ‘OK, let’s buy a new car, let’s go buy this,’” Barber said. “I don’t know if that’s what every athlete does, but I know that’s what some young people do, especially guys. They kind of get caught up in that. Like, I need to do this, this, this and this for the fame or for this. Honestly, I know the fame is gonna come and the success is gonna come from there. The main thing is taking what I make and taking all the success and returning it, putting it back in the bank, like I need to go and elevate this, I need to change this in training camp. I need to make my camp a little bit smoother. Because as good as my camp was, it could be way better than it was.

“So, I feel like I’m almost the extreme opposite. … I don’t want to take time off, I don’t want to take a week off, I don’t want to go on vacation. I wrote down notes of, I want to fix this in the camp, this in the camp, we need to talk about this. Just ways to elevate. I feel like everyone is like, ‘I need a break.’ They’re like, ‘I just spent the entire camp, now I just want to chill and go on vacation.’ I feel like that’s the thing I’m a little bit different on.”

Barber, who has two fights to start her UFC career in a span of four months, said that means she also wants to stay active, not unlike Israel Adesanya’s incredible rise in the middleweight division with five fights in 12 months and a sixth coming in April.

“I feel like the more active you are, the faster the success is gonna come,” Barber said. “And it also helps you mentally to stay there. When you’re consistent in the gym, it’s hard to fall off track. When you’re around the people that know where you’re going. If you have a goal and you follow it and you’re a motivated person, you can’t let yourself get sidetracked and lose focus of what you’re trying to go after.

“And it’s a time critical sport. We can’t just take these fights and go slow, because injuries are real. If you take a fight and you fight once and you get injured, you can’t take those five fights. As long as you’re healthy, I feel like the more consistent you stay fighting, you’re just maximizing your time in the ring. … As long as you’re healthy, you should just do it.”

The fight with Aldrich was a lesson, Barber said. Her coach Marc Montoya of Factory X warned her about leading with “naked” kicks without anything to set them up. Aldrich took advantage and Barber made the necessary adjustments. Brimming with confidence in all areas, Barber knows that her power is a great equalizer.

“I definitely hit a lot harder [than Aldrich],” Barber said. “She’s accurate with her strikes, but she’s not the hardest hitter I’ve ever been hit by. Hannah Cifers is by far the hardest girl I’ve ever been hit by. But I hit harder than all those girls — hands down. I know my power. I know the power I possess and I definitely have it.”

Barber definitely has “it.” And we — and perhaps her, too — are learning more about how much with every passing bout.

“Obviously, there were mistakes that I made, but I’m happy with the performance,” Barber said of the Aldrich fight. “I couldn’t be more happy with it. Just like I told several people, I feel like I needed to show that side of me. The fact that I got dropped and the fact that I took a couple hits, obviously that’s not what we want to do. But I’m happy with the performance.”