By the time Ronda Rousey had won three fights in the UFC, she was the biggest star in mixed martial arts and well on her way to becoming a cultural icon. By that point, Rousey was selling over a million on pay-per-view, appearing in major motion pictures, had written a best-selling book and frequently graced magazine covers.
While Maycee Barber has no interest right now in acting, she’s convinced she could have that same kind of beyond-the-cage influence that Rousey once did.
And she has a fairly prominent supporter.
“It’s all about ‘are you confident and do you believe in yourself?’” UFC president Dana White said. “If Maycee achieves the things that she thinks she can, I don’t see why she can’t have that huge [cultural impact like Rousey.]”
Barber will fight veteran Roxanne Modafferi on Jan. 18 in the primary preliminary bout of UFC 246 at T-Mobile Arena, a bout she hopes inches her closer to her goal of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history.
That honor is held now by Jon Jones, who was 23 years, eighth months and a day old in 2011 when he defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 129 in Newark, New Jersey to win the light heavyweight title.
Barber will be 21 years, eight months and a day old on Jan. 18. Her goal is to fight flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko by the end of the year and White said that’s not an unrealistic goal.
“Roxanne Modafferi is a big test for her, particularly for her being so young,” White said. “If she wins that, she’s going to have to beat someone in the top five. Look at what JoJo Calderwood’s been doing. You get to that top five, and there are some really tough girls there. But if she wins [at UFC 246] and then beats someone like a JoJo Calderwood or a Jessica Eye, yeah, I could see that.”
The thing that comes across about Barber is her passion for fighting. She has gotten a big push from the UFC and she hasn’t been shy about sharing her lofty goals and ambitions. That breeds jealousy in a hurry and has put a bullseye on her back. She knows it comes with the territory and relishes it.
“Bring it on!” she said. “Bring it on! I love it!”
Her wrestling coach, former Bellator and ONE world champion Ben Askren, believes she’s on track and could beat Shevchenko now if they fought, though he believes she’d be better off with more time.
Barber is already a complete fighter, however, and would need to be able to make adjustments were she fighting Shevchenko at this point.
“Valentina is good everywhere and is very well-rounded,” Askren said. “I think there is a chance that Maycee goes out there and blitzes her and finishes her. But in the case that Valentina is having a lot of success counter striking, which is what Valentina is really, really good at, I think Maycee would need to make those in-fight adjustments. That’s not something she’s had to do yet because she’s won all her fights.
“But fighters having the ability to make in-fight adjustments is really, really important and we don’t know yet if she can do that. I think it’s in her, because she’s really intelligent and could do it, but we haven’t had to see it yet.”
Barber’s belief in herself is absolute. She wants to be the one who takes the women’s division to the next level and she can only really do that by becoming a prominent champion.
Rousey was one of the most dominant fighters in the sport’s history when she first joined the UFC and that success generated enormous mainstream interest. It’s something Barber wants to do, as well.
“Let’s be honest: Ronda is the reason why we as women’s fighters are where we are and she’s the reason I’m on the phone in my locker room at the gym talking to you now,” Barber said to Yahoo Sports. “Without her, we wouldn’t be here, or things would be very different. That said, she was dominant for who she was: The first female in the UFC. That alone brought her big star potential. She was able to capitalize on that and create this persona of ‘the girl.’ She was able to really dominate those women. But women’s MMA in my opinion is not as evolved as the men, and if you go back to when Ronda was starting out, it was even less evolved.
“She was able to be even more dominant. When it switched over, and girls like Amanda Nunes and Holly Holm who were able to show Ronda other styles and other matchups that she wasn’t able to beat because she didn’t train everything, [it was because] women’s MMA wasn’t evolved. She had the one style. It was kind of like in my opinion the first UFC, where it wasn’t MMA but it was an individual fighting style going against a different individual fighting style. In Ronda’s time, women’s MMA kind of recreated that whole thing. Ronda beat their style with her style, but eventually girls learned to counter her judo, counter her takedowns and keep her in a standing, striking position where they capitalized on her mistakes.”
Barber said Rousey came to believe she was invincible and said that when she lost, she wasn’t able to come back from it. Barber said her mentality is different and she wants to be good at everything and she looks to be better on each successive day.
White believes people are attracted to highly successful athletes and that will give Barber an edge.
“She’s very confident in herself and she has no problem calling someone out,” White said. “She has huge goals, big goals and I love everything about the way she’s doing things. She’s fun to listen to, she’s fun to watch and she’s a winner. She loves to fight and people can relate so much to that.”
So Barber’s learning curve is not just learning the best takedown defense or the best striking techniques, but everything involved with being a star at the highest level in one of the biggest sports in the world.
She’s preparing for everything, and not just between the bells inside the Octagon.
“There is a technical side to this and a star side to this,” she said. “I have that star potential and I believe I’m going to be a big star in this sport. I want to be the best I can be in the gym and in the Octagon, but I also want to be the best I can be outside the gym and the best outside the Octagon.
“There is a need in this sport for a dominant female athlete who is marketable and who has the ability to reach a lot of people. That’s my opinion and how I view myself. I have both the star potential and the fighting experience and I’m continuing to grow on both sides.”
More from Yahoo Sports: