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With nearly 17 years as a professional, fights on three continents, two stints on The Ultimate Fighter and countless other accolades, it’s hard to find someone still in MMA that is more of an OG than Roxanne Modafferi.
Even given all that she’s accomplished, the former UFC, Invicta, and Strikeforce title challenger is not slowing down any time soon. Her recent run, which includes impressive victories over Antonina Shevchenko and Maycee Barber (the latter of which was in pre-school when Modafferi made her pro debut) has her right in the thick of things in the flyweight title picture.
But this isn’t the downward slope at the end of a prestigious career for Modafferi. Instead, she still finds herself improving daily in all facets of MMA. Most recently, partially thanks to the pandemic, Modafferi has increased her strength and conditioning training, rounding out part of her game that she’s always believed was behind the others.
“I never really wrote down the numbers - how many pounds I can lift and all that. I've always been kind of a weak fighter because I just focused on martial arts. I consider myself a martial artist rather than an athlete,” Modafferi said. That’s not to say that she is changing who she is as a fighter, but instead that it levels her playing field. “Rather than feeling stronger than people, I'm just feeling not overpowered anymore - I'm feeling like I can hang with them. So I'm certainly hoping that I'll see the results in the fight.”
In addition to having more strength on her side now, Modafferi feels that she’s seeing the MMA world more clearly than ever before. While in her early days she felt like fights were just complete chaos, she continues to see the fight with more clarity each and every time she steps into the cage.
“With every fight, my brain becomes a little bit more clear, if that makes sense. For example, if you're learning a language, you slowly get better at it and the world becomes less foggy and you start understanding more. That's kind of how it is with me with every fight,” she shared. “At first it is just a blur of like punches and instinct, but then over time, like with every fight even now, I feel a little bit clearer, a little bit more sharp, a little bit more mentally aware of every fight. So I think that's kind of helped me.”
As a longtime grappler, sometimes striker, Modafferi has always been more at home on the ground. As a result, a lot of this recent clarity comes on the feet where she’s shown marked improvement in the last few years. Although some of this vision does come from experience, which she has in droves, a lot of it too comes from her training situation. After training in various places over her historic career, Roxanne’s move to Syndicate MMA during her Invicta run is one that has spiked her development.
“I'm better at grappling and I feel more calm and composed. So once it goes to the ground my brain switches on. But for kickboxing, I haven't been as good at it as grappling, so it was kind of chaos,” Modafferi said. “Honestly, until probably my Invicta days, I didn't really know what I was doing. I was just going out there and throwing and trying not to get hit. I had plateaued with my kickboxing for so long until I met [John Wood].”
And although she does credit this development to Wood’s knowledge, the part that has helped her progress like never before is the style of John Wood. As someone who admits to being a hard student to teach, Modafferi has trouble learning from coaches who aren’t patient enough to teach her style of learner, but given the right kind of coach - as she now has - and she’s able to advance so much further.
“I'm kind of a hard student and he figured out how to communicate with me for the most part. I need every little detail explained to me. Like if you say punch with your left hand, I’m like ‘okay, how far do I extend my shoulder?’ ‘Is it a 90 degree angle?’ ‘Do I turn my thumb horizontal or vertical downwards?’ Like I need to know these things before I can do it,” she said. “And the coach has to be patient enough to explain that to me, or I am going to get frustrated and cry. I’ve only really ever connected with John [Wood] and then AJ Matthews more recently.So, I only really feel comfortable training striking with those two guys.”
Modafferi steps into the cage this weekend with this increased clarity and more comfort in her striking game than ever before (although admittedly still less that when she’s on the mat). While she won’t even consider what could, should, or would be next with a win over Lauren Murphy, one has to wonder if all of this progress might lead to one more line to her already stacked resume.