When she all of thirteen years old, Roxanne Modafferi began training in Taekwondo and Karate, only to decide after a time that she no longer wanted to do it. “One day I woke up, and I was like ‘I don’t want to punch things anymore, that’s too violent. I need a martial art with no more striking. No pain.’ And my mom looked up in the phone book, and found judo.”
Judo gave Modafferi a new outlet to train in martial arts, without the violence inherent in striking-based disciplines. But after a while, her judo and jiu-jitsu buddies got her into the UFC. “I was like ‘alright, I guess I’ll try this stuff again.'”
Trying that “stuff” led to a trailblazing career in mixed martial arts, in which Roxanne Modafferi was one of the pioneers among female fighters. That career took her all the way to the UFC itself; the journey will wrap up later this month with her retirement fight at UFC 271.
Throughout it all, Modafferi told Cageside Press recently, “I always wondered, one day, would I wake up and not want to hit anybody anymore? Some day, is this going to happen to me again? And I think it happened. I don’t really look forward to sparring anymore, I just want to do jiu-jitsu. So I think that day has come.”
That should give you some idea of why, after 50 fights (counting her pro bouts, plus her runs on The Ultimate Fighter), “The Happy Warrior” has decided to call it a career.
There was a point, however, where calling fighting a “career” was being generous. Modafferi got her start in Japan in 2003, at a time when options for pro MMA fighters were limited. Even more so for female fighters. “I knew I could survive off fighting alone some day. But when I first started fighting, that wasn’t the case,” she recalled. “I tried not to worry about it. I just worked my job, and just fought as much as I could.”
Hope that she could one day fulfill her goals drove her. “My life goal was to make it into the UFC, period. It wasn’t to fight for the title, it was just to be in the UFC and try to be the number one strongest fighter in the world, whatever that entailed,” Modafferi stated. “That was my goal.”
In the end, she did both. Modafferi appeared on The Ultimate Fighter 18 in 2013, fighting as a bantamweight. She went 1-1, and lost a decision to Raquel Pennington at the TUF 18 finale. For a while, it seemed as if that would be as close to achieving her goal as things got.
That changed when the promotion introduced the flyweight division in 2017. Modafferi got a second run on TUF, this time as The Ultimate Fighter 26 introduced the women’s flyweight division. She would even compete for the inaugural women’s 125lb title in the promotion.
Nearly twenty years from the start of her career, Modafferi will wrap things up on February 12, 2022 at UFC 271, when she takes on Casey O’Neill. From the outset, she’s been upfront that this will be her retirement fight.
Staying focused hasn’t always been easy, Modafferi admitted. “It’s really been a hard camp, to be honest with you,” she told us. “My coaches have been helping me a lot by helping me stay focused, and giving me techniques that are going to be good for Casey.”
When she first started what will be her final training camp, Modafferi experienced some difficulties. “My training partners weren’t doing what I think she [O’Neill] would do. So I was kind of fighting my training partners, but they knew my style. I was really frustrated, I was like ‘man, this sucks, I can’t wait to retire, this sucks!'” It wasn’t fun, Modafferi admitted, and she was getting frustrated. That, thankfully, has passed. “Now, I’ve gotten my groove down, I’ve been able to forget about everything surrounding the fight, and just focus on the fight.”
Retiring in the pandemic era brought about another factor: most UFC shows these days go down in the essentially empty UFC Apex. Modafferi, a fighter with a strong following who has always been gracious with fans, will at least be able to have them in the building for her swan song.
“For my retirement fight, it occurred to me when they told me it was a numbered card, 271, I thought ‘ah that’s cool, so that means people who really want to see my last fight are going to be able to come.’ And that really made me happy. I would have been disappointed obviously if it had been at the Apex with no fans and no one could come, so I’m really glad that I’m able to do that.”
As always, Modafferi will also have something special in store for weigh-ins. You can thank one particular fan on Facebook for that, though others had… let’s just call them less than helpful suggestions. When Modafferi posted a request for weigh-in ideas on social media, “I got horrible responses!” she told us. “People were like ‘you should miss weight!’ and I’m like ‘what?’ and other people were like ‘go nude,’ I’m like ‘what?!? Come on, give me a serious suggestion! I’m not going nude, I’m not going to miss weight, like come on!”
So what do you guys wanna see me do for my last weigh ins? #ufc
— Roxanne Modafferi (@Roxyfighter) January 6, 2022
Luckily, that aforementioned Facebook fan came through with an idea ‘The Happy Warrior’ felt was perfect. No spoilers, but “thanks dude on Facebook, I’m going to take your idea” Modafferi added.
No longer wanting to hit people may have been one motivator in Roxanne Modafferi calling it a career. But as is the case with any major life decision, where were a multitude of factors to consider.
“My body and my head,” she admitted. “I was aware for like a year and a half, my head isn’t doing so great after sparring nowadays.” That got Modafferi thinking about calling it a career. “And I was close to 50 [fights], I thought ’50, that’s a great number.’ And it’s just kind of fitting in with my life as well. My boyfriend just proposed to me, we’re going to get married, my single woman days are over! 39, I might have a kid, so this is a good time.”
First, she’ll step into the octagon one last time. Roxanne Modafferi meets Casey O’Neill at UFC 271 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on February 12, 2022.