On January 18th, in Las Vegas, NV, I claimed victory in what was the forty-fifth fight of my career. Beating Maycee Barber in the feature prelim on ESPN was a major victory for me. I jumped two spots in the UFC rankings, and had a lot of personal growth as a fighter. Maycee had a lot of hype behind her, and I overcame the odds.
Ever since, from fans, friends, and media, people have been asking: What were you thinking when….?
A lot happened in the weeks and months surrounding my fight against Barber at UFC 246.
I’m at home when the phone rings. It’s my head coach, John Wood. “Maycee Barber,” he says. “January 18th in Vegas.”
”Ooo! Okay,” I tell him immediately. “Vegas? January? SWEET!” Maycee seems like a strong, game opponent with power, but has way less experience than me. For sure I can win this one. I just have to go out and do it. Anyone can win at any given time. I’m older, but I beat older, better fighters coming up myself, using pure determination and my specialty. I’ll have to be careful of her rushes, flurries, and powerful strikes.
One week before the fight
Lorenzo, my strength and conditioning coach, looks me in the eyes and puts his hands on my shoulders after our last fight conditioning session.
“I didn’t push the sled as much this fight camp…” I say, kind of hesitating. That was a really hard cardio push and we didn’t do what I normally do.
“You’re fine,” he tells me. “I designed your training according to what you needed this camp. Lots of footwork. Hard push-offs forward, backward, sideways. You are ready for this. You are ABSOLUTELY ready. You’re strong and fast and you have cardio for days. You’re not going to get beat up by this young girl. Go out there and get it!”
Yes. I’ve done my cardio. I’ve kept up my strength. I’ve been training footwork both in class and physical training. I feel faster and more well-balanced. I’ll try to be smooth—no, I will be smooth. I’ll be able to move and dart around like I never have been able to before. I mean, I’ll try…
No, I have to believe I can do it.
I need to overcome this stiff feeling I have while striking in live combat. I KNOW I CAN do it, and now I just have to go out and do it. I’ve been working on my angles, footwork, and combos with John. I’ve been doing other footwork, my power one-two, clinch, knees, and standing elbows with AJ. The ground and pound I’ve learned from John in the past has let me finish many people these last 4 years. My Jiu-Jitsu is on point. Anything can happen in the fight. Which possible future path will I walk next week? Like Flashpoint!
I go for a jog, and then stretch doing various yoga poses in my apartment. During this time, I think and visualize a lot.
I know I’m not seen as scary. Maybe I need to make her bleed this fight. I don’t really like that, though. Maybe if I make her bleed fans will respect me more. It’s totally AJ’s fault for influencing my thoughts with all his ‘dark side’ talk. Let’s visualize: Maycee coming in. I slip her jab and land my straight. Maybe she’ll throw back. Maybe I’ll clinch. I wanna get a head tie. Maybe I can knee. Maybe I can land an elbow. The clinch—my strikes are stronger nowadays.
“Crush her face!!!” I hear AJ say through my internal monologue.
“Your wrestling transitions are the best they’ve ever been,” John’s voice reassures me. “Underhook, take her that way. If she resists, take her the other way. Head position.”
I sprint to the fire hydrant. In my mind, I am flurrying and shooting double legs, trying with all my might to take her down.
In the locker room
“Sit down and relax, Roxy,” John says. “You’ve got hours before you have to warm up.”
If I win, it’ll be such a relief. My next fight will be guaranteed, I’ll get double the money! If I lose… My career’s in jeopardy. No, don’t think about the consequences. Jab, slip, jab. Clinch, head-tie, knee. Maybe she’ll elbow me. I’ll pummel for the under hooks if I can get them.
Think combinations. Feint. Feint the knee. She’s been training with Ben Askren. Maybe she’ll shoot. If I lose… No. Don’t think about that. Time the ‘Billy hook’ when she comes in—jab straight. I need to show all the technique I’ve learned over the past six months! I have to do it all… No, you don’t, Roxy. Don’t force it.
“Look for what’s available,” I hear Lorenzo’s voice telling me.
I want to clinch. I need to be violent.
“Don’t force it the take-down,” John’s voice reminds me. “Create your moment. Look for what’s available.”
“Your experience will tell you what to do,” I hear Mike Pyle say in the back of my head. “And you’re body is going to react.”
“Slide in smoothly—crush her little face,” AJ again, with his ‘dark side’ talk.
Inside the cage
There she is. Hurry up and announce us. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hurry up! I can’t stand the wait.
The bell rings. We come forward, and touch gloves.
Circle. Watch out for sudden blitzes. John said fast feet. Lots of movement. Okay get closer… *CRACK*
For a second all I see is white light.
Her jab connects, jolting me. But, I recompose myself instantly.
Oh. Strong jab. Okay circle, fast feet… here I go.
I throw. She throws. I move. Her strikes whiff in front of my face. I feel the breeze. We are exchanging.
THE CLINCH! Oh… I don’t have a good grip. Now’s not the time. Dang it.
We separate, and I feel some of my strikes land.
Wow, I landed. Solid. Balanced. Mobile. Fast. Faster. Close distance. Fight for the underhooks. Whoa that was easier than I thought to get—compared to Maia. Okay, outside leg trip. Get in my half guard! Leggo of my head! Grr… Dang it, quit holding my head!
My fight against Jennifer Maia left me traumatized. All the stuff I trained for didn’t seem to work. It made me lose a lot of confidence in my technique. In the gym I found myself always saying to John, “But this didn’t work on Maia! But this happened with Maia. But I couldn’t do this with Maia!” Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes. A fighter can have good technique, but the right opponent will still shut it down. I had to move on. But, no matter my last performance, I still had a lot of confidence in my top half-guard game, thanks to my MMA grappling coach, Mike Pyle.
Throughout the rest of the round, Maycee does a good job keeping me close, so I can’t ground-and-pound. It’s super annoying. Still, that also means she can’t escape. She has to make space to escape. But if she make space, she’ll eat my elbows.
Second round starts
I stick her with a stiff jab and she falls down.
My punches felt strong! Weird, she cried out in pain. Ground-and-pound. Jiujitsu. Mount. Elbow. Reversal. Okay, there’s blood. That’s fine. But… lots of blood. Her blood in my MOUTH! Eww. Eww! Blah! I spit it out a few times off to the side. Blood everywhere—slippery. But, I’m winning.
Arm bar maybe? Flower sweep maybe? YES, flower sweep! Heck yeah.
Must elbow. Leggo of my arms. Must elbow. Must finish. Must win. Must win. Must finish. Now’s my chance. My chance! What if I lose this chance?! My only chance? Must finish. My life. My career. Everything. Elbows.
Round two ends
I’m happy heading back to my corner, knowing I’ve won the first two rounds. It’s never best to bank on what’ll happen in the third, though.
So far so good. Bell rang. The ref went over. The doctor came in. What are they doing? *squint* Doctors come in to check cuts. They’re checking her cut. I’d hate for them to stop it.
No, wait, I need a win no matter what. I’ll take a win via cut stoppage, I guess. I kinda wanna keep going. Are they going to stop it? Why are they telling her to sit down? Why is she sitting down? What’s the doc doing to her knee? Are they going to stop it? Yes, stop it. No, don’t stop it. I want to fight. But I want the win. AAARG! Focus. What are they doing?
“He’s just checking her knee,” referee Jason Herzog tells me. “Stay ready.”
“Her knee is hurt! Try and keep it standing!” I hear coach John shout. “Make her stand up!”
Ah, okay. So that’s why she cried out in pain. That sucks for her. Okay, so that means she won’t be as mobile. I’ll be faster. Move a lot; In and out, one-two. Land the straight. Bell rang, be patient. Wow, my strikes are landing. *boom* Owch, she’s still dangerous! Got me there. Patient. Mine connected… she fell down! Wanted to strike more. Welp, okay, I guess.
She cries out in pain again. “I’m sorry,” I tell her, as I fall upon her. I feel sorry for her injury and pain, but I’ll keep trying to hit her without regret. Sorry, but I have to beat you.
“It’s the game,” she gasps in reply, fighting on—struggling to stand up. I respect her so much at this moment. She is obviously in pain, but knows that she has to try and win anyway, despite it. Ignore, fight through the pain. Never give up; win anyway. Always try to stand up. Have confidence in yourself and give 100% of yourself to the fight. That is my ‘way,’ as well.
Win anyway—fighting is not fair.
You have to win no matter what. Hurt, tired, rocked, sick, you have to find a way to win anyway. Maycee and I both know that. I’ve fought people who missed weight, they didn’t feel bad beating me. I’ve fought injured, myself, and lost—but the L still went on my record despite it. Once you get in that cage, you have to win anyway. The loser will be haunted by the ‘what if?’ They’ll never know. I always feel compassion for that, having experienced it 16 times.
Back in the fight, she still feels strong. She manages to reverse me and get on top. I’m avoiding and ducking her elbows. And soon, I’m back in top position. Standing now, and I still have to be careful. She’s ranked in the top ten for a reason, having TKO-ed her last five opponents. I use my strength and skill to get the better of her. By now my corner has given up shouting for me to stand. They’re calling out grappling guidance points instead.
I can hear everything John and AJ say. I’m following directions like a fighting video game avatar.
The fight ends. I’m covered in her blood. AJ holds out my T-shirt for me to put on. I don’t want to get blood on it, but he makes me. I feel kind of bad-@$$. DO I LOOK SCARY YET?!
All I can think about is how he kept telling me to cut her face off every day in training, and I succeeded! “Off,” though?
I want to make him and John proud so badly. SO badly. I want Mike to be proud of my Jiu-Jitsu game and see all his moves I learned from him. I was good with my movement and felt stronger. Lorenzo will be proud.
My name is announced as the winner, and relief floods through me—cooling the fiery fight-energy like a peaceful, blissful lake. Joe Rogan approaches me.
Ooh how cool! I’ve always wanted to be interviewed by Joe Rogan! Dude! I’ve visualized this moment for so long!
Excitement sparks up like fire crackers, around the cool lake of relief.
Okay, okay, I gotta remember to shout out to everybody. John Wood, AJ Matthews, Mike Pyle, Lorenzo Pavlica… I’ve been rehearsing. Once I forgot to thank Lorenzo and felt horrible. I’ll say “Team Syndicate… I wanna stay in the top ten rankings…”
“Can I say something, please?” Maycee says, reaching for the mic.
I stare at her, trying to not forget what I planned to say. Oh she’s talking. Maybe she has something epic to say. Joe Rogan looks curious. She’s holding a monster can. Thirsty? No, Roxy, that means sponsorship. She’s sponsored by Monster? That would be nice to be sponsored by Monster.
Dang. She’s saying it’s an honor to fight me. How nice! That was really cool to say. Now she’s apologizing… but not for her performance? ‘…because it makes me shine.’ Hmm. Wait. a. second… is that… a nice thing? Doesn’t that make me sound… bad? Maybe? Is she confused? I’m confused. Did she mean that, or just not think that one through? Okay, Joe is coming, so I gotta thank John.
I remember everything I planned to say. I can’t be angry about anything in the aftermath. I have won, after all.
In the days that have followed, I’ve been surprised and puzzled her father would release a statement about his daughter losing to “bad luck,” rather than my superior skill-set. However, fathers are supposed to be biased.
I wouldn’t want my kids, if I ever have any, doing MMA. My parents certainly can’t wait for me to retire, so I can forgive anything her parents will ever say. All I care about is what my coaches, and those in charge at the UFC, think.
I want to show the world the martial artist spirit of honor. I’m also thrilled that fans, commentators, everybody noticed my improvements and gave me credit for the win—despite Maycee’s knee injury.
Maycee and her father keep talking about her leg being injured early on in the fight. Well, she has to win anyway. Other fighters have. I can’t let that bum me out. I know I would have won anyway, even if her leg weren’t injured.
Everybody has been telling me it’s the best performance of my life. I had wanted to show off more striking, however, I’m extremely pleased with my performance and can’t wait to see what the future holds for me. It will be a different ‘Future’ than many anticipated.
The world hasn’t even seen all the new weapons I’ve acquired!
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