Invicta FC flyweight Roxanne Modafferi comes home

Invicta FC flyweight Roxanne Modafferi looks to the future. (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

Few female MMA fighters have fought at the highest international level for as long as Roxanne Modafferi (16-11) has. And, for about a decade, the American did so as an ex-pat living in Japan.

After her TUF 18 and UFC run, however, “The Happy Warrior” decided to move back to the States – Las Vegas, specifically. Though she felt the move was necessary, Modafferi says the decision to relocate to the world’s fight capital was a difficult one.

“Yeah, it was extremely difficult,” she tells Cagewriter.

“I loved my life in Japan, but I had to tackle this opportunity while I could.”

The veteran says that her American friends had been telling her she needed to switch up her training to the U.S. for years, but she was skeptical. Fighting on The Ultimate Fighter and in the UFC, opened her eyes.

“Many of my friends had been telling me to move back to the U.S., that the training here was the best,” she remembers.

“But I chose not to believe that. After TUF, where we were treated so specially, and taken care of by the coaches, I could see what they were talking about. It took me over the course of the TUF season, so about six weeks, to make the decision. On the day we left, I looked over to Jessamyn Duke – who had been telling me to come back to the States – and I said, ‘I’m moving back.’”

Making a Change

When she returned to Japan, Modafferi told her friends, coaches and training partners of her decision, got her affairs in order and made plans to relocate to America. They were all disappointed but wished her the best.

For Modafferi, who first lived in Japan as a college student, she was not only facing an adjustment in training, but a fundamental lifestyle one, as well. “I had planned to stay in Japan for a very long time, at least until my mother got older and would need me to help her out,” she says.

“There have been a lot of adjustments to make. I did visit America twice a year while I lived in Japan, so it wasn’t a complete culture shock, but I had never lived as an adult in the United States, so there’s so much I wasn’t used to. My mom tried to catch me up on things, to be careful of. Just things like fraud, and how you have to chop up your bank statements, and have to be more careful. In Japan, you can walk down the street with your wallet hanging out of your pocket and no one is going to rob you. In America, people tell you to not carry cash, to not even speak your bank account number over Skype, it’s almost annoying (laughs).”

Despite the challenge of having to learn to be an adult in a new country, Modafferi couldn’t be happier in her new fighting home of Las Vegas and The Syndicate team, led by John Wood.

“It’s a completely different world,” Modafferi says, comparing Japanese gyms to American ones. 

“In Japan, people tend to train collectively. You could go into a gym and not even know who’s fighting next. In America, your coach takes you aside for multiple private lessons a week, they study your opponents, and they tailor training to you and take care of you. If they know your opponent has a good front kick, they work on ten billion things about front kicks with you. If you’re sparring in a ‘Shark Tank’ (where you face fresh opponent after fresh opponent) , they say, ‘don’t rip her arm out of the socket, she’s got a fight coming up.’ They worry about your weight for you, your cardio. You feel taken care of. I definitely trust what my coach John Wood says, because he puts the time into you.”

Forward Thinking

Given with how glad she is to have made the move to the U.S., we ask the 32 year-old if she sometimes wishes she had made the move back from Japan, to America earlier. “Honestly, I try not to think back, because it’s a difficult feeling,” she admits.

“I don’t want to say it was bad, because I really loved my time in Japan. And, MMA has changed over time so much that, who knows, maybe if I had moved back to the U.S. six years ago, I would not have had the same treatment I get now.

“I kind of wish I had moved back earlier, but I don’t know if the timing would have been right. So, I just try to look forward and move on from here on out. I can’t regret my time in Japan because it was a part of building me to be the person I am today.”

The flyweight’s next bout is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Houston. Modafferi will rematch a woman she beat back in 2008 – Vanessa Porto – on the Invicta FC 10 card, airing live on UFC Fight Pass.

Getting Surpassed and Catching Up

Heading into her last fight, against fellow women’s MMA pioneer Tara LaRosa, Modafferi was on a losing streak that extended six fights, and nearly four years back.  Getting back in the win column was a must, in her mind.

Thankfully, her new training environment paid off. “It’s funny because, around the middle of my stay in Japan – about four years ago – I started worrying about being surpassed,” she reveals.

“I did well at first with my ground fighting background. Then, I started seeing and hearing interviews with other female fighters, who trained in the U.S., and they were talking about training three times a day, and all the different things their coaches had them do. I started to think, ‘Gee, I hope I don’t get surpassed.’

“That was kind of my mantra for awhile – ‘don’t get surpassed. Don’t get surpassed.’ I think that rough stretch that I had, where I lost a number in a row, was me being surpassed (laughs). My grappling got me by, initially, but then people started catching up and getting well rounded. The last fight, I feel, was me getting caught up.”

Winning almost always feels good. For Modafferi, there was a particular satisfaction in getting back in the win column, against LaRosa, in September.

“It was just so satisfying to be able to execute the difficult techniques that I had learned with my coaches,” she says.

“That was the whole reason why I left my wonderful home and life in Japan, to come back to the States. I was just elated. That’s why I shouted out ‘Syndicate!’ I feel like I have more of a future in the sport, now.”

Fight by Fight

Her immediate future will contain the rematch showdown with Porto. Modafferi says Porto –who has won three out of her last four - has improved a great deal since she stopped her with knees back in 2008.

“I see a very well-rounded, well-developed fighter,” Modafferi says of her opponent.

“She’s a different fighter than when we fought in 2008… it’s going to be a super tough fight. I’m better now, myself, as well.”

Back from her long-time adopted home, Modafferi feels rejuvenated in her MMA career. As for goals left to accomplish in the sport, he submission savvy fighter says she’s taking things one fight at a time.

“I’m taking it fight by fight,” she says.

“My last goal was just to win (laughs). My goal was to break my losing streak. If I continue to be successful, I’ll think ahead, more. I’m jut going to make it my goal to win the next fight.”

All that said, Modafferi thinks of one more specific item she hopes to accomplish in an already prolific fight career. “I started as a ground fighter,” she begins.

“So, I want to win with a knockout. I want one victory coming from a stand-up KO.”

She may be happy, but there’s no doubt that Roxanne Modafferi is still, all warrior.

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