“The American Dream.” It’s a tapestry woven from many different cloths. It can stand for pretty much anything, ranging from a desire to be the first in a family to graduate college to working one’s way from janitor to CEO. It can stand for emigrating to America to become an entrepreneur or for carrying on a family business rooted in your community. Ask 100 Americans what the “American Dream” means to them and you’ll likely get 100 different answers. Ask 19-year-old Maycee Barber what it means to her and you’ll likely love her answer, even if you might be a little surprised by it.
“I’m not sure what kind of legacy I want to leave yet. I’m still trying to figure it out,” sagely stated Maycee Barber in an interview with Combat Press. “But I am trying to build my life in my own way. My goal is to be the best me I can be — to stay healthy and have a good life beyond fighting. I know I am not going to work some job that I don’t want. I am going to work hard now so I can be free later. I want to spend the rest of my life doing the things I love.”
Barber is not your typical 19-year-old girl. Nor is she your typical MMA fighter, if there were such a thing. Her mom is her best friend, and she prefers to spend time with her five brothers and sisters instead of shopping or chatting on the phone. Rifle hunting is OK, but she prefers archery because “you have to work harder — be quieter and more patient.”
The Western spirit is a hardy one. Settlers who came to Colorado 150 years ago faced extreme conditions. The summers on the front range can be quite hot and dry. And the winters? Well, let’s just say they can be bitter cold. Blizzards, chinook winds and Arctic Blasts are harsh, and doubly so if there isn’t any electricity. Those settlers had to be self-sufficient as well as adaptable. Barber has this spirit in spades.
“I love to boat, camp, hunt, fish — well, anything outdoors — and I can’t see my having my kids in public school when I’m older,” she said. “I like to be near my family and will want to have that freedom in the future to have them near me.”
When it’s time for her to raise her family, she wants to raise her children like her parents are raising her and her brothers and sisters. Maycee is the second daughter in a family of six children. Her family started taking karate together when she was just three and half years old. In 2010, they opened their own gym, Fort Collins Martial Arts Academy. The kids were homeschooled, partly because they were needed at the gym.
“It would have been crazy to go to school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then go work from four to nine,” said Barber. “I would have to start my homework once we got home. It just wouldn’t have been possible. Being able to get all of my work done in the morning and then focus on instructing and taking classes has been awesome.
“Since I decided to become a fighter, I’ve looked at all the investment of time and nutrition as my college. I won’t rule out future schooling, but I don’t see it as necessary for my goals. I want to fight and I want to be a world champion. And then, my retirement or my fallback is to have my own gym.
“That, and a bakery. My mom and I have talked about having a food truck that specializes in crepes and a bakery storefront. I love to cook and I love to bake. That was what I thought I would do before I fell in love with fighting, and I still love to do it. I love everything in the kitchen, except doing dishes [laughs]. The only way I like doing dishes is with music on so I can sing and dance. I think my mom has some videos of me that she might be saving for blackmail.”
We are getting ahead of ourselves, though. Barber is, after all, only 19. She has a very bright future in MMA.
In 2013, when Barber was 15, the family gym added Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to its repertoire. Barber and her sister began working their way up the belt system by studying online via Gracie University, offered by Ryron and Rener Gracie.
“My sister and I watched the videos and rolled with each other, a lot,” Barber said. “We were able to earn our blue belts by testing online and demonstrating the knowledge. When I tested for my purple belt, I got to go to California. Some people don’t think it’s a good way to learn, but we’ve loved it.”
Gracie University has definitely worked for the independent Barbers. Maycee has been medaling in both gi and no-gi competitions since she started BJJ. This might be one of the reasons why she decided to go pro so early in her career.
“It was really hard for me to actually fight as an amateur,” admitted Barber. “We would take a fight, but then something would happen. I finally fought as an amateur and scored a 20-second TKO. After that, I couldn’t find another fight. So, my dad, who is my manager, and my coaches decided it was time for me to go pro. I still had a tough time getting a fight, which is why my debut was for [Legacy Fighting Alliance].”
Barber faced a very tough and very game opponent, Itzel Esquivel, a boxer who made a name for herself with an impressive record of four wins and one loss as an amateur and who had been undefeated as a professional fighter through two fights. Esquivel had technical knockouts and knockouts, but she also had a strong submission game and was known for getting armbars on her opponents.
“Going into the fight against her, I really thought I was going to finish the fight with strikes,” said Barber. “I envisioned the win coming from my elbows and strikes. I got her down and was working my ground-and-pound and didn’t even realize that I took her arm until I had taken it. I was surprised. So I just finished the fight that way.”
Earning your first win in the first round of your first pro fight is definitely a great way to start. What’s a great way to keep that going? Train with the best. When in Colorado, Barber is coached by Ryan Schultz at Trials MMA in Fort Collins. She also spends her fight camps in Albuquerque, N.M., at Jackson Wink MMA Academy under Brandon Gibson.
“About two and half or three years ago, I really bonded with [Gibson],” Barber said. “He is an amazing coach, world-class. If you want to be a world champ, you have to be willing to train with the best. It’s really comfortable there, and he is a huge part of my career and life. And on top of his training, I also get to work with guys like Frank Lester, Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.
“Coach [Gibson] is going to Edmonton [Alberta, Canada] with Ray Borg the same weekend that I fight, so Frank Lester is going to be in my corner. You know, you can only have two people in your corner, but the rest of your corner is in your heart. If I could, I would have every single person with me, but that’s just not possible.”
On Sept. 8, Barber will fight for the LFA again at the promotion’s 22nd event. She is set to face Mallory Martin, another Colorado up-and-comer whose pro record is even at 1-1 while her amateur record was 6-1. She trains out of Zingano Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is known for her submission skills.
“I don’t really watch much film,” admitted Barber. “When the matchmaker tells us who the opponent is, we will sit down and watch to get a feel for who she is. But at this level, there is no need to study film for tendencies. We all have holes in our game that the elite, the top five, won’t have. We can find the holes and figure out how to exploit them, but we are mainly focused on eliminating my holes.
“The more I can train and the more I can build my foundation, the better. The goal is to get to the UFC and work my way up to that level, but I know it’s going to take a lot more work and knowledge. Plus, at this level, we are all growing pretty quickly, so what you see from a fighter last year won’t be the same this year. Right now, I’m just focusing on not having those big holes in my game and then not to have any holes in my game.”
The “American Dream” is as varied as every American, and fighters are just as varied. Some female MMA fighters feel the need to gain fans by showing off their bodies. Some feel the need to show the men that they can be just as tough and rough as their male counterparts. But not Barber.
“I don’t want to be known for saying awful things or dropping the F-bomb or being half-dressed,” said Barber. “I want to be a role model for my little brothers and sister. I want parents to be able to point to me and my Instagram as someone their daughters can look up to. I want to be known for my athletic ability most of all.
“I’m just a normal person, really, and a genuine person. To be a fighter, I have to be tough and gritty, but I don’t have to be… that way. I don’t know how to describe it, really, but I know it to be true for me. I don’t need to be like the guys to be tough. I just need to be me.”
America is a land of dreams and dreamers. Not everyone will realize their dreams. Some because they don’t believe they can. Some because they aren’t willing to put in the work. And others because of injury or external circumstances. But if you’re a betting person, you can bet on Barber realizing her dreams.