Beyond The Odds series shines a spotlight on the intangibles of three fighters for each UFC card. Here are three of the more intriguing fighters competing at UFC on ESPN+ 6 Saturday in Nashville.
Nicknamed “The Future”, this 20-year-old rising star burst onto the scene after turning pro in 2017. Maycee Barber firmly believes she is on a fast track to becoming the youngest UFC champion in the company’s history. In an interview with AXS TV Fights, Barber states “23 years and 8 months. That’s the goal. Jon Jones did it in 23 years and 8 months. He won the title, and the goal is to beat that.” There is something to be said about someone who has this level of mental drive, ability, and a singular focus. It is no surprise that Barber has surrounded herself with top-notch coaches while en route to a 6-0 record. Bucky Barber, Maycee’s father as well as manager, shares a conversation that set the tone prior to embarking on a professional career: “We had a talk, and we just decided we are going to get her around the best people in the world.” Under the tutelage of Matt Pena and Marc Montoya at Factory X Gym in Colorado, Barber looks to take the next step of her meteoric rise as she makes a move from the Straweight to the Flyweight division to take on 26 year-old UFC veteran, JJ Aldrich, who also happens to be moving from Straweight to Flyweight herself. Barber, the -235 betting favorite with a $8,900 salary at DraftKings, will need to use her dynamic skillset including vicious elbows and lightning quick kicks to get the job done here.
The 28-year-old 10-2 Elevation Fight Team Heavyweight looks to bounce back this weekend against 8-1 American Kickboxing Academy pugilist, Justin Willis. Last time we saw Curtis Blaydes inside the Octagon he took an early first round stoppage loss at the hands of herculean heavyweight, Francis Ngannou. There wasn’t particularly much to draw from such a brief showing, despite all of the preparation that went into the bout. In an interview with Fightful MMA & Boxing, Blaydes shared “We watched their breakdowns, and there wasn’t a whole lot to gather positively or negatively. Sometimes you get caught.” Expect Blaydes to get back to his bread and butter and look to wrestle in this matchup against the former San Jose State Defensive Tackle, in Willis. Not only did Curtis Blaydes go 19-2 as a Freshman for the Division 1 Northern Illinois wrestling team, and become a NJCCA Champion as a Sophomore for Harper College, but more importantly his grappling game has transitioned extremely well to MMA. In previous high-profile bouts, Blaydes has been able to land numerous takedowns and maintain top position against household names such as Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt. Look for Blaydes, the -280 favorite with a $9,000 DraftKings price tag to find a way to do the same in this fight against the fleet-footed Justin Willis.
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson enters as the biggest favorite on the entire card at-460 with an enormous DraftKings price tag of $9,400 as he takes on a reeling Anthony Pettis, who has lost 6 of his last 9 fights. This will be Pettis’ first dabble at the Welterweight division, in what should be an intriguing striking based battle. Thompson, the 36 year-old Simpsonville, South Carolina native, enters the cage with a confidence that one would expect to accompany a 58-0 kickboxing record and 14-3-1 professional MMA record. “Wonderboy” possesses an elite karate based striking game to go along with solid takedown defense. He is also the larger fighter, and holds a 3” reach advantage over Pettis. Expect “Wonderboy” to spend the first round gathering intelligence, before landing pin-point precision strikes en route to a dominant victory.
All three fighters highlighted above have showcased their mental strength along with elite physical abilities inside of the Octagon. Some, such as Maycee Barber and Curtis Blaydes, are still evolving and maturing before our eyes. I expect we’ll see more of the same on Saturday night as they take the next step in this journey. Enjoy the card, folks!