Roxanne Modafferi began competing in MMA while she was in Japan during her junior year abroad in college. She went 3-0 in women’s events that did not allow face-punching on the ground.
In her first fight under full rules, she fought the then most dominant female fighter in the world – Jennifer Howe, who was 12-0 with 11 knockouts. Roxy beat Howe. It was impossible.
Then Modafferi entered a one-night, eight-woman tournament, with no weight division. In the first fight, she beat 200+ lbs. BJJ black belt Ana Carolina. In the second fight, she lost to Megumi Yabushita. Yabushita had just won the first fight by grabbing opponent Shannon Hooper’s wrist and doing a front roll, breaking it. Yabushita would go on the win the event when the incredible Erin Toughill was disqualified for an illegal, rib-breaking elbow.
Next up was a rematch with Howe, and Modafferi won that too. That was The Happy Warrior’s first peak.
Then she went 1-3, losing to Laura D’August, Tara LaRosa, and Shayna Baszler. The sole win was a rematch with Yabushita.
During this time Modafferi graduated from college and moved to Japan. It was a low, but the beginning of Roxy’s next peak – she went 8-1, beating the likes of the far larger Marloes Coenen, Vanessa Porto, and winning a rematch with LaRosa.
That earned her a shot at Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman. Roxy got knocked out by a slam, and she lost the next four.
Still, her record was such that she was asked to be a cast member in The Ultimate Fighter 17. The then grappling-based fighter won her first TUF fight, vs. Valerie Letourneau, via choke. She lost the second TUF fight to Jessica Rakoczy, but was given a UFC fight in the TUF Finale vs. Raquel Pennington, and lost that too. Going 1-7 is generally as low as it gets, the end of the line, but it was not.
Modaferri loved the training in the USA and left her beloved Japan to move to Las Vegas and train with John Wood at Syndicate MMA. She signed with Invicta and was resurrected, developed hands, and went 4-1 in the world’s foremost WMMA league. It was capped with the title shot at Maia. The winner would be the best 125 women’s MMA fighter on Earth.
Modaferri came up just shy.
She won two more and entered TUF for the second time. That season was capped with a fight vs. Nicco Montano for the inaugural UFC women's flyweight championship, and lost a decision in the fight of the night.
She has gone 3-2 since, most recently stopping Maycee Barber’s much-heralded train. Now ranked #5, Modafferi fights Lauren Murphy at UFC on ESPN 11.
“I’ve seen fighters go from being fighters to being athletes and I’m catching up,” said Modafferi. “In the very beginning, I was just going up — I was one of the top competitors in the bantamweight division. They still called it Vale Tudo back then, so I’ve seen so many changes. It’s been a rollercoaster ride with a lot of ups and downs and different phases.”
Why didn’t she quit when he had lost six in a row, and was not young?
“I just had this gut feeling like, ‘I can still improve and I still have potential,’” she said. “There was something I didn’t have, and I knew I could improve.
“If I start getting knocked out every fight and my chin goes or I start getting concussions, that’s probably when I’m going to retire, but back during that rough stretch, I just had this feeling that I could do more. I needed a better coach, I needed something and I was just still looking for that something.”
That something was of course head coach John Wood and S&C specialist Lorenzo Pavlica at Syndicate MMA.
“The last five years have been really cool for me because the females have really caught up to the men,” said Modafferi. “Every fight means something different to me because the circumstances are always different, but it’s so cool to still be in the UFC and still be relevant because this was my dream.
“My only two losses in three years have been to people who missed weight, so it’s super-frustrating. If I can’t eat sushi, you can’t eat sushi. Make weight, mudder-fudger!”
“I’ve never missed weight. It so frustrating because it screws with my head; I don’t know if that weight made a difference. I don’t want to tell myself I lost because of the weight — maybe she was better — but you never know, and it sucks because she could just miss weight, give me her money, and not care.”
“I’ve never had beef with anybody, but it’s kind of cool not to have any extra things floating around; there is no negativity floating around at all. I know that she’s going to make weight and I’m going to make weight, so we said, ‘Let’s do it!’
“We’re both tough, it’s going to be a throwdown, so I’m excited.”
“[In the beginning], I was fighting for myself, not being recognized, except by hardcore fans. But now people are going back and recognizing what I’ve done and my story is being told. Now I’m getting credit for all the hard work that I put in over 17 years, so that’s pretty cool.”