Rising UFC star Maycee Barber finds friend, mentor in Ben Askren

MMA

Rising UFC star Maycee Barber already anticipates the nerves she’s going to feel before the fight. She sees herself pacing the room.

But this bout she’ll be sweating is going to be more than 9,000 miles away.

Barber’s teammate from Roufusport MMA Academy, Ben Askren, will be taking on Demian Maia in the main event of UFC Fight Night Singapore on Saturday (8 a.m. ET on ESPN+).

“Ben, I don’t know if I’d call him a teammate. I’d call him more of a close friend or mentor, someone who I really look up to,” Barber said. “Overall, just a phenomenal human.”

Barber will watch the fight with Askren’s wife, Amy, at their home outside of Milwaukee.

“We have a coffee and breakfast date,” Barber said. “I’m excited to watch this fight.

“I know it’s obviously a battle between two of the best grapplers in the world. I’m super excited to watch him go out there and prove he’s the best grappler in the world, especially in MMA. I always get nervous when I watch people fight that I know and care about, so it will be hard for me to watch. I’ll probably be pacing around the room. But I’m excited.”

It was Askren’s grappling ability — he’s a former Olympian — and knowledge of the discipline that prompted Barber and her family to move to Milwaukee from Colorado to train at Roufusport.

“The whole reason why we moved out to Wisconsin was with the intent to start training, or at least start building a relationship, with Ben Askren,” Barber said. “We watched his fights, and we followed along his career. We’ve done a lot of research trying to figure out who the best in the game is, and … high-level wrestling is something that had been missing, I feel like, from my game.

“So to increase my knowledge of wrestling and have someone who knows wrestling in terms of MMA is what we were looking for … we met with Ben Askren and started training with him around November, and then I left to go back to Colorado for my camp.”

Barber won her UFC debut on Nov. 10, then scored a second-round TKO of JJ Aldrich on March 23, but she broke her hand during the first round of that bout. During her recovery, she decided to spend her next full camp at Roufusport. Barber and Askren trained twice a week leading up to her fight Friday against Gillian Robertson. Barber notched a first-round TKO against Robertson at UFC Fight Night Boston and stayed undefeated at 8-0.

“Maycee picks up stuff at an incredible rate, which shows that she’s committed to learning the stuff,” Askren said. “When I show her or make a suggestion, usually later that practice or the next one she is implementing the technique in real time, flawlessly.”

Barber said she used Askren’s advice against the cage versus Robertson.

“Working with Maycee has been great. She is a quick learner, works hard and, I believe, has all the intangibles to be a great champion.”

Ben Askren

“Previously I kind of got impatient, and I’m very adamant about if I’m not just dominating something, then I kind of get frustrated, even though I’m winning the position,” Barber said. “He played a big part in [saying], if you have a position that’s really good, why not just be happy with where you are and understand it might not be like this, it might not be what you want, but you can still do this, you can still do that. So a lot of the mentality in the positions and in the fight is what we trained and worked and he helped me on. Not a single part of that fight that I went into [did I not] feel 100 percent like I got this. I felt great.”

The 21-year-old Barber, who was ranked No. 6 in ESPN’s Top 25 MMA fighters under 25, has set her sights on breaking Jon Jones‘ record as the youngest champ in UFC history. Jones was 23 years, 8 months old.

“Working with Maycee has been great,” Askren said. “She is a quick learner, works hard and, I believe, has all the intangibles to be a great champion.”

Askren, who is one of the more outspoken fighters in the UFC, also has helped Barber with the intangibles outside of the cage, specifically regarding fight promotion. Her calling out Paige VanZant immediately after beating Robertson was her idea, but she said having someone who knows the promotional side as well as Askren has been beneficial.

“I feel like I’m pretty smart as it is, but he added a lot to that,” Barber said Monday on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “We were texting back and forth all day yesterday, all day today, like think about what you’re going to say and who you’re going to call out. We talked about different people, but at the same time, we were also talking about how I’m not afraid to fight any of these girls. But in terms of fight promotion, he’s taught me a lot. Just being able to speak with someone who has that kind of mentality, listening to someone like that talk, I pick up a lot.”

ESPN MMA insider Ariel Helwani contributed to this report.

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