Body, head and lack of desire to hit people led to decision to retire

Roxanne Modafferi, UFC 266 weigh-in ceremony Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

At the age of thirteen, Roxanne Modafferi began training in taekwondo and karate, only to decide after a while that she no longer wanted to do it. “One day I woke up and I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to hit anymore, it’s too violent. I need a martial art without more hitting. No pain.’ And my mother looked 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, his judo and jiu-jitsu buddies got him into the UFC. “I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’ll try this thing again.'”

Trying this “trick” led to a pioneering career in mixed martial arts, in which Roxanne Modafferi was one of the pioneers among female fighters. This career took her all the way to the UFC itself; the journey will end later this month with his retirement bout at UFC 271.

Throughout it all, Modafferi recently told Cageside Press, “I always wondered, one day, would I wake up and not want to hit anyone anymore? One day, will it happen to me again? And I think it happened. I’m not really looking 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 his pro fights, plus his runs on The Ultimate Fighter), “The Happy Warrior” decided to call it a career.

There was a point, however, where calling fighting a “career” was generous. Modafferi debuted in Japan in 2003, at a time when options for professional MMA fighters were limited. Even more for the fighters. “I knew I could survive fighting alone one day. But when I started fighting, that wasn’t the case,” she recalls. “I tried not to worry about it. I just worked my job and fought as hard as I could.

The hope that she could one day achieve her goals motivated her. “My life goal was to be in the UFC, period. It wasn’t to fight for the title, it was just to be in the UFC and try to be the strongest number one fighter in the world, whatever that entails,” Modafferi said. “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 in the TUF 18 Finals. For a moment, it looked like it would be as close to hitting her mark 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 125-pound title in the promotion.

Almost twenty years into her career, Modafferi will wrap things up on February 12, 2022 at UFC 271, when she takes on Casey O’Neill. From the start, she said candidly that this would be her fight for retirement.

Staying focused hasn’t always been easy, Modafferi admitted. “It’s been a really tough camp, to be honest with you,” she told us. “My coaches have helped me a lot by helping me stay focused and giving me techniques that will be good for Casey.”

When she started what will be her last training camp, Modafferi had some difficulties. “My sparring partners weren’t doing what I think they [O’Neill] would do. So I was fighting a bit against 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 starting to get frustrated. That, fortunately, passed. “Now I got my rhythm back, I was able to forget about everything surrounding the fight and just focus on the fight.”

Retiring in the age of the pandemic has brought about another factor: most UFC shows these days take place in the essentially empty UFC Apex. Modafferi, a well-followed fighter who has always been kind to the fans, can at least have them in the building for her swansong.

“For my retirement fight it came to mind when they said it was a numbered card, 271, I thought ‘ah that’s cool, so that means people who really want to see my last fight will be able to come.’ And that made me really happy. I obviously would have been disappointed if it had been at the Apex without fans and no one could come, so I’m really glad I got to do that.

As always, Modafferi will also have something special in store for the weigh-ins. You can thank one particular fan on Facebook for this, although others have…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 said ‘you should lose weight!’ and I’m like ‘what?’ and other people were like ‘go naked’, I’m like ‘what?!? Come on, give me a serious suggestion! I’m not going to be naked, I’m not going to lose weight, like come on!’

Luckily, this aforementioned Facebook fan came up with an idea that “The Happy Warrior” thought was perfect. No spoilers, but “thanks Facebook man, I’ll take your idea,” Modafferi added.

Not wanting to punch people anymore may have been one of Roxanne Modafferi’s motivations in calling it a career. But as with any major life decision, there were a host of factors to consider.

“My body and my head,” she admitted. “I was conscious for about a year and a half, my head isn’t very well after the fight these days.” This made Modafferi think about making a career out of it. “And I was almost 50 years old [fights], I thought ’50 is a big number.’ And it’s just kind of in tune with my life too. My boyfriend just proposed to me, we’re getting married, my single days are over! 39, I could have a child, so it’s a good time.

First, she will enter 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.


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