Roxanne Modafferi stands as one of the most popular and successful female MMA fighters of all time. Roxanne was one of the first women to try her hands at MMA. She started the sport when it wasn’t the talk of the town and worked for the recognition and acceptance of women in mainstream MMA. She holds a decorated record of 20-13, in which she has defeated the likes of former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Marloes Coenen, MMA legend Tara LaRosa, MMA legend Jennifer Howe, MMA legend and flyweight standout Vanessa Porto, decorated flyweight Angela Lee and standout DeAnna Bennett. She has literally seen the growth of women’s MMA in front of her eyes and has lived through all the eras of its growth. The former Strikeforce bantamweight title challenger will be facing fellow top flyweight Sarah D’Alelio at Invicta FC 23 on May 20. Roxanne took some time ahead of the fight to answer questions about her personal life, journey so far, the growth of the sport and much more.
How did your journey as an athlete begin? Was there someone who influenced or inspired you?
Funny enough, I’ve never really considered myself an athlete. I see myself as a martial artist. Perfect execution of technique has always been my priority over physical strength and endurance. I also hold myself to a strict personal honor code, such as live life correctly and set a good example for children or anyone watching. I try and follow rules, never lie, never allow myself to be lazy or procrastinate, never allow myself to quit a task for the reason of being tired or lazy, etc.
I’ve always been inspired by superheroes I saw on TV, such as the Power Rangers, when I was a kid. They taught morals and how to be fair and kind to other people. Later, Japanese anime characters such as Goku, Naruto, and Luffy inspired me by their hard work ethic and the way they went after their dreams with reckless abandon. I love the Japanese culture for their sense of honor, respect, and comradely.
When you look behind and realize that this is how far you have made, how does it feel?
I am very proud of myself for how far I come. I can’t believe I’ve had 35 fights.
What according to you is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is improving my striking skill by training with Coach John Wood at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas. I had given up hope that my striking skills would ever improve, since I have put so much time and effort into practice, changed trainers and gyms so many times. When I beat Tara LaRosa in 2014 in Invicta, it broke my losing streak. That was my greatest achievement so far.
Did people around you support the decision of taking this sport as a career? What are the biggest challenges that you have faced?
My family always encouraged me to follow my dreams, but never liked me doing MMA because I got hit in the head. My father constantly reminds me about my future after MMA. My friends all support me and think it’s cool, though. The biggest challenges that I have faced were physical ones. I’ve had repetitive stress shoulder injuries and tendonitis which prevents me from kickboxing with heavy weighted gloves for long. I’ve had a herniated disk in my neck and a bulging disk in my lower back. These are mostly healed but flare up every now and then. Thanks to smart training and excellent chiropractic and massage therapy, I’ve never been more healthy than I have been these past two years at Syndicate. Living in Japan was rough because I couldn’t find the care that suited me. I’ve also gotten a ton of cornea abrasions from getting an accidental glove poke or punch. Once it happens, it’s easy to happen again. They hurt so badly you can’t open your eyes for a day. Luckily, they heal within five days or so.
An opinion which comes out again and again is that MMA isn’t meant for women. As someone who practices MMA and has many fans, what are your thoughts on the thoughts of people who refuse to accept that women too can fight?
People who say MMA isn’t meant for women haven’t watched enough females fight or train. I always hear from fans that they had no idea women had talent until they watched Invicta or some other fight, and then became fans. We fight just as well as men can. However, there are unskilled male fighters just as there are unskilled female ones. I ask those people not to judge our whole gender on one fight alone.
You have been a part of MMA almost since its inception. What are your thoughts on the evolution of women MMA? Do you think that women MMA fighters have cemented their spot in the main stream media? Did you ever find it difficult to get recognition in MMA world because of being a woman?
I think the skill level of both men and women has risen over the years. I used to be able to win fights with poor striking but great grappling. Now, everyone is well-rounded and has to have sharp striking and grappling. I do admit that that the highest level of males was higher than that of females in the past. Now, I believe it has pretty much caught up. I do see female fighters in the UFC who throw simple combinations over and over. But then I see females who have slick ground transitions and submission attempts that would wow anyone. It just depends on the person, at this point.
I’ve found it difficult to get recognition in the main stream media, but only partially because I’m a woman. I’m kind of a geeky nice girl who doesn’t trash talk, show sex appeal, or have super flashy KO power. I read the Sherdog forums once and about half the men said it worried them to watch me fight because I reminded of them of their sister or the nice girl next door. haha. But I have die-hard fans who support me win or lose. They aren’t the type to drop me or diss me if I lost, like some Ronda Rousey fans who turned on her. I always dress modestly, so I don’t get creepy guys asking for naked pictures. But that means I get less men wanting to see me fight. It’s a trade off.
Who do you think are the top 5 greatest women MMA fighters of all time, women who have not only given exemplary performance in their fights but have also helped in the growth of the sport and have made it possible for women to have their place in some of the biggest MMA promotions? Why?
I think the top five greatest women MMA fighters are: Megumi Fujii, Tara LaRosa, Marloes Coenen, Ronda Rousey, Cristiane Cyborg Justino.
They all have extremely high abilities and dominated their opponents. They were trail blazers and paved the way for other women to follow. Megumi fought a lot in Japan and the US. I hate the term “Women’s MMA,” because I believe it implies that women do a certain kind of MMA that’s different than men. However, especially in Japan, I believe they had their ‘women’s MMA’ and then ‘men’s MMA.’ They referred to our fight clothes as “costumes.” That always pissed me off. I always insisted on answering them using the term “fight clothes.” Women never fought on the same card as men. Except Megumi. She was allowed to fight in Shooto and other big shows. The average skill level of female fighters was low, and men usually didn’t take their training as seriously. Women couldn’t actually make a living and get paid enough to fight, so it could only be a hobby for them. Except Megumi. She was the joint owner of a school and could dedicate her life to her martial art.
MMA is notoriously known for being a negative sport. Time and again athletes have quit the sport because of the draining negativity the sport has around it. Despite this you have always managed to stay positive. How? What is your message for people who find it difficult to deal with all of this? Any advice on how to reduce the negativity around yourself?
I stay positive because I have my eyes focused on my goals. My goals are increasing my skills and strength, and proving I can execute my techniques on my opponents in live combat. If I can win, I get more money and more opportunities. In order to do this, I need to do XYZ kinds of training. It’s simple in my mind, so I go about implementing such training to get such result. I used to be lost as how to improve certain things, but now that I’m at Syndicate studying MMA and striking under John Wood, and Brazilian jiujitsu with Alexandre “Captain” Almeida and Casey Milliken, plus conditioning with Lorenzo, I can very clearly see my path and I’m getting results. So my advice would be, surround with people good for you and stay focused on what you love and the positive things.
Your nickname is The Happy Warrior. You have always promoted positive and healthy competition. Today the world goes through a negative phase, with an increase in hate crimes and violence. Do you have a word or two on how can people counter these situations?
My nickname is the Happy Warrior, but being human, I’m not happy 100% of the time. However, I was raised to always find some positive aspect of a crappy situation, and fully enjoy anything positive. In regards to hate crimes, I’ve been fortunate to grow up in the suburbs and haven’t witnessed a lot of violence first hand. The world would a much better place if people followed this rule: Be nice to each other.
This is part of the promise I make my kids repeat in my jiujitsu class. “I will be nice to my classmate.” Regarding hate crimes, hate is an emotion on the Dark Side of the Force. I try and teach my jiujitsu kids to be good Jedi and control their emotions. “Don’t complain when I pair you up with somebody because it hurts their feelings.” “Don’t gloat when you win because it’ll hurt their feelings.” I really want to teach my kids to be kind to each other, and with great power comes great responsibility and honor.
You have faced some of the best fighters of all time. One of them was Marloes Coenen, who recently announced her retirement. How was it facing Marloes Coenen? What are your thoughts on her as a fighter?
Marloes is an amazing women and great fighter. I fought her once in an open-weight tournament and won by decision. Then I accepted a last-minute fight two weight classes above mine to get a Strikeforce contract, and lost by armbar. She is strong and talented and one of the top female fighters in the world.
Who are your top 5 opponents? What made them the best you have faced?
My top five opponents? Jennifer Howe, Tara LaRosa, Jennifer Maia, Vanessa Porto, Marloes Coenen.
Jennifer Howe and I had a slug-fest battle in 2005 that kind of put my name on the radar for bigger shows and fights.
Tara LaRosa beat me the first time, and I won the second and third time. All the fights were exciting up and down battles. We are now friends.
I challenged Jennifer Maia for the Invicta belt and lost a split decision. I had one of the best performances of my life and was proud of myself and what I had achieved, despite losing.
I beat Vanessa Porto the first time and lost the second time. She’s a strong, dangerous opponent and it was a tough fight.
In your next fight you face Sarah D’Alelio. She is one of the most decorated flyweight fighters. What are your thoughts on Sarah as an opponent and do you think a win over her might put you back for title contention?
I am so excited to be facing Sarah D’Alelio. I feel she could be a title challenger even now. She’s beaten a lot of tough fighters and I know she’ll be tough. I respect her stand-up and ground game. This fight will be a test to see who can impose their will and their strengths. Yes, I believe a win over her will put me back in title contention.
The flyweight division is dubbed as one of the most stacked divisions. Do you think the UFC should make one?
Absolutely, the flyweight division should be made immediately. It’s so unfair and unhealthy for a lot of the 115-ers cutting down who should really be 125-ers, and a lot of 135-ers are undersized.
One of the most discussed topics in MMA today is fighter pay. What are your thoughts on the pay made by an average MMA fighter? What are your thoughts on fighter union? Will you join the union if given a chance?
I think that the market is now saturated with fighters due to increased popularity of the sport. Sponsors are also harder to come by. Promotions often just can’t afford to pay their fighters a lot, and the ones that can, often make pay choices based on marketability, which is logical but not fair. I don’t see any counselors giving advice to fighters, teaching them how to use social media or how to promote themselves better. There should absolutely be a fighter union, but good luck setting one up. I’ll join one only if it doesn’t hurt me and everybody else is joining it. I was quite the union advocate for my company in Japan. :) But the company couldn’t hurt me. I got the highest rating on my teacher performance evaluation. In the fight game, so many things are political. I want to fight. Most fighters have to beg to get a fight.
A message for your fans.
I want to thank my fans for their undying support always. It makes my heart so happy when people reach out in person or social media. I’m honored that people actually care about me and send me positive energy and cheer for me. Thank you!