At The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale this Friday, Roxanne Modafferi will get another chance to capture her first UFC win — and another shot at fellow flyweight contender Barb Honchak, in a fight many expected to be at the TUF 26 Finale last year.
After two stints on The Ultimate Fighter, Roxanne Modafferi (21–14) is chasing that elusive first UFC win. Facing Barb Honchak at The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale on Friday, Modafferi knows how important a victory is at this point in her career. She’s a pioneer of the sport, having fought in tournaments and for titles long before the UFC even considered opening up their roster to women. Yet she’s 0-2 in the promotion, a dangerous spot to be in against a fighter like Honchak.
Interestingly enough, both of ‘The Happy Warrior’s’ UFC fights have come at Ultimate Fighter finales, as will her third. Her most recent effort earned Fight of the Night honors, coming in a title fight against Nicco Montano for the inaugural women’s flyweight championship. That bout capped off TUF 26, which introduced the 125lb weight class for the ladies. Modaferri, who was eliminated on the show by Sijara Eubanks, wound up fighting for UFC gold anyway after Eubanks suffered kidney failure during her weight cut.
Now she gets another shot against Honchak, once considered one of, if not the best women’s flyweights in the world. The pair met once before, back in 2011, where Barb took home a submission win. Yet the Roxanne Modafferi fans see today is a very different fighter from the one back then, as she told Cageside Press ahead of Friday’s TUF 27 Finale.
“I think I’ve changed so much as a fighter since our last fight,” ‘The Happy Warrior’ explained. “My striking has gotten better, my wrestling, of course my jiu-jitsu. All around, I’ve grown a lot. I think my fight IQ has gone up. I’m sure she has gotten better too, but I think I’m going to take the win this time.”
“I’m able to utilize my striking to get where I want to go on the ground,” she continued. “That’s pretty much no secret, I suppose that’s not going to give away my game plan. My movement is unpredictable I hope. So hopefully I’m going to be able to get it where I want it.”
There’s no strict game plan when Modafferi steps in the cage. Instead, along with her coach, “we watch my opponent, and he tells me her tendencies. ‘Okay she tends to throw this, she tends to move like that.’ I have to just look out for those things during the fight.” It’s a blueprint that has served her well, taking her to the semi-finals of TUF 26, and then the title fight at the finale. Not to mention title challenges in both Strikeforce and Invicta FC.
Yet with their last meeting so long ago, there’s little to be gained from looking back to her first fight with Honchak. “I don’t even remember that fight, other than she choked me out, and I was not excited about that, because that’s my favorite move (rear-naked choke),” Modafferi told us. “We pretty much watched Barb’s most recent fights, to see how she is now, and just go from there.”
Had you asked any number of experts who’d make it to the finale The Ultimate Fighter 26 prior to the show airing last year, many would have tabbed Modafferi and Honchak. It’s a fight Modafferi has been expecting as well. “I went into the show believing that it was going to be Barb and I in the finale fighting for the belt,” she said. Instead, they both lost fights while still in the house. Which saw them paired up at the TUF 26 Finale regardless. Just not for the title. “I was trying to be positive about that. I was really looking forward to fighting her at the finale, and then that didn’t happen. Which was was good, almost disappointing in a way, but I can’t be disappointed with fighting for a title.”
Now, she gets her crack at Barb Honchak after all. “Finally. Finally,” she said of the opportunity. “Let’s fight. Let’s do it.”
In preparation for the bout, the flyweight has been training with Joanne Calderwood. “It’s been great, JoJo’s great. She’s fun, and her striking is better than mine,” Modafferi said.
“She has a great ability to control her power, which a lot of fighters and people in the gym don’t have.” Calderwood has the ability, it seems, to fire off just grazing strikes, while still using a full arsenal of kicks, elbows, and the like. That’s key since “in a sport where we’re training and having full contact every day, you’ve really got to be careful with your brain.”
There’s been some changes of late for Modafferi. Among them, she’s been doing “a lot of strength and conditioning.” It’s a change in focus for a fighter who saw herself as a martial artist rather than an athlete. “So I never really did strength training until recently,” she told us, something that she’s switched up over the last couple of years. “I’m hoping that I’ll be able to benefit from the strength gains in addition to the other all-around training.”
“Where ever it goes, I just want to make sure I’m on top,” she added.
That’s key to the win, which is key to her success in the UFC. A few bad days is all it takes for a quick exit, rightly or wrongly. Modafferi recognizes that “there’s politics, there’s personalities, there’s exciting fight styles.”
“I’ve heard of a fighter getting cut from one boring fight, or not a boring one but a not-as-exciting-as-it-could-be fight,” she said. “I like to think I’m an exciting style fighter. Picking up the Fight of the Night was great. Nobody wants to lose, nobody wants to go on a losing streak.” Modafferi has had her back to the wall before, fighting through a five fight losing streak prior to her first UFC appearance in 2013. “That was rough. I knew I had more to improve,” she allowed.
“You smile at somebody, they want to smile back at you. I know that’s a fact. I believe in that, I believe in smiles and positivity.”
This time around it’s different. “This is like, it. I’ve really got to stay here, I’ve really got to win,” she admitted. “I’m trying not to think about it, because it stresses me out. When I start thinking of that, I just have to remind myself of why I fight. I love to fight, I’m so happy to be here. Just all positive things, try not to worry about a losing streak.”
“I just keep telling myself that I’m going to win,” Modafferi explained. “But I would be lying if I say I’m not worried about it.”
That having been said, 2017 was a big year for Modafferi. Winning both her fights to start the year, going on a run on TUF 26, fighting for the title. Arguably, you might see it as the best year of her lengthy career. “I never really thought about it that way until you said it,” she said of the observation. “I guess it must have been my best year, if you think about it. Yeah. I won a lot of fights, I fought for the title. I fought a lot last year, it was great.”
Prior to her UFC title fight last year, Modafferi had told us that she doesn’t believe in karma. What does guide her is a general philosophy to “be good to people, no matter who.” In a world where you hear so many things about bad things happening to good people, she chooses to “try to do my best always, always put out positive energy. And I think a lot of people give you positive energy back.”
“I don’t know about karma,” she continued, “but I do believe in a circle of positive energy. You smile at somebody, they want to smile back at you. I know that’s a fact. I believe in that, I believe in smiles and positivity.”
‘The Happy Warrior’ will take that positivity into the octagon with her on Friday at The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale against Barb Honchak. And for those wondering about any weigh-in outfit surprises, she admitted a few things were on order — but wouldn’t let slip what they might be.