Breaking through career plateau helped UFC contender Roxanne Modafferi to keep smiling

Elias CepedaYahoo Sports Contributor
Roxanne Modafferi waits in her corner prior to the third round of her women's flyweight bout against Antonina Shevchenko during UFC Fight Night at Yubileyny Sports Palace on April 20, 2019 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Getty Images)
Roxanne Modafferi waits in her corner prior to the third round of her women's flyweight bout against Antonina Shevchenko during UFC Fight Night at Yubileyny Sports Palace on April 20, 2019 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Getty Images)

In 2016, Roxanne Modafferi (23-15) lost a split-decision to Jennifer Maia (16-5-1). This Saturday, “The Happy Warrior” gets another crack at the Brazilian contender when they face-off in San Antonio.

Modafferi won’t say that she believes she deserved to have received the nod from judges the last time she faced Maia, but the flyweight does know that she’s a much-improved version of herself now, compared to 2016. The fighter credits her move to Syndicate MMA and her work with her strength and conditioning coach Lorenzo Pavlica for her improvement.

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“I think I’ve grown a lot in these last few years,” she told Yahoo Sports ahead of Saturday’s UFC card in Texas.

“I have improved a lot. That’s what Saiyan warriors do. I have reached the next level – Ultra instinct, maybe. You may even see it in my hair color.”

The UFC’s female flyweight division is wide open in terms of contenders, at present. Next month, Liz Carmouche will get a shot against champion Valentina Shevchenko after having won her last two fights.

Modafferi’s last fight was a win over Shevchenko’s sister, Antonina. Should she come out on top against Maia this Saturday, she’ll have a two-fight win streak of her own, and a compelling direct connection to Shevchenko vis-à-vis her win over Antonina.

It isn’t hard to imagine that Modafferi might be tempted to think about a possible title shot in the near future, if things go her way in San Antonio. “I’m thinking about it a little bit, but at this point I’m trying not to give it too much mental energy,” she admitted.

“I’m a dorky English teacher. I’m not supposed to win (laughs). I have to force myself to take it one fight at a time. It’s how I’m able to focus so well. It’s how I’m excited every day and how I don’t get overwhelmed about what could be, it’s how you don’t get frustrated by any one training session or fight.”

Antonina Shevchenko (L) and Roxanne Modafferi in their women's flyweight bout as part of UFC Fight Night 149 at Yubileyny Sports Palace. (Getty Images)
Antonina Shevchenko (L) and Roxanne Modafferi in their women's flyweight bout as part of UFC Fight Night 149 at Yubileyny Sports Palace. (Getty Images)

The approach is working well for the international fighting veteran. Somehow, after nearly 16 years as an MMA pro, Modafferi doesn’t just appear to be maintaining her enthusiasm for the sport, but she’s fighting better with each outing.

She credits moving back to the United States after living, training and fighting in Japan for years, as a big catalyst for her resurgence. Working with John Wood at his Syndicate MMA gym in Las Vegas gave Modafferi the tools to maximize on her talent and experience.

“I had experienced a plateau in Japan,” she recounted.

“I was on a five-fight losing streak. Everything I was doing wasn’t working. I tried changing gyms, tried a new strength and conditioning guy, tried massage, tried getting new striking instruction. I tried everything but I wasn’t getting better.”

Now, Modafferi says, the disturbing mystery is gone. She knows, each day and each training camp, what she needs to improve on, what is and is not working, and how to get on the right path.

“I came to Syndicate MMA and broke that plateau,” she concluded.

“I could sense it when I came here, and it was so exciting. I know what I have to do, now, and so I know that I can smile and carry on.”

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