Pandemic training, title shots, and bloody wars – Fans interview the Happy Warrior

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everybody’s lives in some shape or form, including myself. Gyms in Vegas closed, and we went under lockdown for…

By: Roxanne Modafferi | 3 years ago
Pandemic training, title shots, and bloody wars – Fans interview the Happy Warrior
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everybody’s lives in some shape or form, including myself. Gyms in Vegas closed, and we went under lockdown for over a month. That resulted in me changing my training, and pursing other interests that I have been putting on the back burner, like the piano. Uncertain about topics to write about for my next article, I decided to ask my fans what they wanted to know about me and my recent activities.

I always enjoy hearing from the MMA community, they gave me an opportunity to answer questions about not just my fight career, but also things I’ve achieved outside the cage as well. I look forward to hearing from anybody who wants to reach out, either in comments, or by email, or on social media.

Is there a possibility of another title shot early 2021?

This is actually a complicated question. Throughout my career, I’ve only had one consistent goal: to try the techniques I’ve learned in training on my opponents in live combat, and prove that I can use them to win. It was my goal during my debut fight, and it’s what I think about now.

My career has been long. 17 years! Of course, I’ve had other goals pop up—like trying to get a knock out, trying to win titles (Fatal Femmes Fighting, Strikeforce, UFC, Fusion Fight League, IFC). They were all in my grasp once, and I even won a couple of them. But not the elusive UFC title. It takes years for fighters to work their way up to a title shot, usually because they have to win so many consecutive matches. I’m typically only offered fights twice a year.

After my fight with Nicco Montano for the belt in 2017, I figured there was no way my career would last long enough for me to work my way back. Instead I had to just be happy with fighting at all.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Now, I find myself ranked number 5. People are talking about me being close to the head of the line for another shot! However, my teammate Joanne Calderwood is fighting Valentina Shevchenko for the title next, right? I don’t really want to think about fighting JoJo for the belt if she should win, but I really want her to beat Valentina! I’m going to support JoJo 100% and train hard with her in her fight camp. Worrying about what might happen will only waste mental energy. Who knows what life will bring? It’s rarely as we imagine it, for better or for worse.

Instead, I’m going to try to focus on my short-term goals, like beating Lauren Murphy if she is indeed my next opponent. I’ll try not to have any future desires one way or another. I’m going back to the root of my motivation: whoever I fight, I’m doing it for myself—to prove I can win with what my coaches taught me. It’s the reason I wake up excited to go train every day.

What’s it like training with past opponents, especially those you’ve lost to like Kaufman, etc?

I’ve trained with a many past opponents before, actually. I’m in a different mind-set when I train than when I fight. All limiters are removed and there’s no holding back in a fight. I’m very controlled with my power in training, and use less vicious techniques.

I practiced MMA with a girl who I had finished from mount with elbows, and I was actually worried that she would feel mental repercussions from our fight. I tried not to get mount too much in our round. I know that I have flash backs, nightmares, and feel traumatized in certain positions I struggled with during a fight—even if I’m training with somebody other than that opponent.

After I lost by slam to Sarah Kaufman, I freaked out if somebody started lifting me off the ground in guard. After I lost to Jennifer Maia, I got upset whenever we practiced body locks in practice—because I had been trying so hard to get a take-down in that fight, but couldn’t. It’s a little bizarre, but time heals that sort of thing.

The first week of training with Kaufman was a little challenging. Becoming friends with her helped, and I tried to focus on the great training I was getting. Her striking is still better than mine, plus she’s bigger and stronger. She gave me lots of good advice. I missed her after she left.

How do you stay fit and motivated during Covid-19 times?

My motto is, ‘Do what you can do until you can do more.’ My gym, Syndicate MMA, closed to the public in late March. We had one more training session as a team, and then even the team was disbanded for several months. I hit up my teammate and Muay Thai coach AJ Matthews, and he invited me to train in his garage! I started going there almost every day, terrified about the future but just telling myself, “It’s okay, it’ll be okay, AJ is helping me. I can keep growing.”

I also trained with my strength and conditioning trainer Lorenzo Pavlica three times a week in his backyard. He has a whole professional set up, with weights, a jammer, a sled, dumbbells, tire, hammer, bands, etc. I know I’m getting stronger.

That’s the key, I think. Recognize what things are in the realm of possibilities and do what you can do until you can do more. To stay fit, if all you can do is go jogging, do push-ups and sit ups, then set goals and do them as hard as you can.

In regards to motivation, I’m usually so busy in my daily life that I barely have time to sleep. I challenged myself to find something positive about this lock-down situation, since I’m the ‘Happy Warrior’ and it’s my job to be positive. I decided to make a list of all the things in the back of my mind that I’ve always wanted to do, and do them before the lock-down ended. I proceeded to attack my ‘to do list’ every day, with all my energy that I didn’t have to use teaching kids or training hardcore.

I reorganized my apartment. I started cooking new things. I started writing my third book—a memoirs collection! I’ve written so many pages so far! I figured out how to do my nails and make-up. (Go ahead and laugh but you gotta practice these things to get good!) I bought a keyboard to learn the piano. I also lay on my sofa and watched anime. It has been kind of nice being able to actually sit down between tasks.

Write about the time between the 2nd Maia fight and the Maycee Barber fight.

That was a hard loss to swallow, but I tried to digest it as best I could. Although I was landing strikes, I became obsessed with trying to take her down. I could not. As I tried over and over to get the body lock or get some kind of hold on her, she dirty-boxed me and beat me in the clinch.

Upon reflection, I realized that I was good at the grappling aspect of the clinch but not striking, so I requested “clinch lessons” from AJ. That was the first time we had started training. For two months we only did clinching, and it was like a whole new world. He has really added a lot to my arsenal of techniques and is really good at explaining body mechanics.

Coaches John Wood and AJ Matthews

I continued my development with Team Syndicate and my head MMA coach John Wood, and feel really good about who I’ve got in my corner. Coach John is good at working with my natural abilities and adding techniques that suit me. I also tried really hard to get gi jiu-jitsu training in. It was hard to fit gi into my schedule, but I drove back and forth between Dunham’s Jiu-Jitsu and Syndicate several times a week. I also did a ton of strength and conditioning with Lorenzo.

All these efforts paid off when I won my Maycee fight in January, and got promoted to black belt in February. I also managed to take my yearly trip to Japan in September, and go home for Christmas in December.

What does it feel like to be covered in your enemy’s blood?

It feels very bizarre.

Right after the fight, I saw it all over my arms and legs and had to remind myself, “It’s okay, it’s not my blood,” several times. When people went to shake my hand after the fight, I hesitated, not wanting to get blood on them. They didn’t seem to care. I have also tasted the blood of my enemy… so I guess that makes me a vampire for real?

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Finally, after numerous interviews I went back to my locker room caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Blood also covered my face and neck. Most of it dried—it looked a lot more like a nice brown tan, not blood. I knew better.

Aghast, I thought, “I look like THAT!? I’ve been giving interviews like THIS?” I always wait to get back to my hotel room to shower, but I stripped down to my sports bra and compression shorts in the co-ed locker room showers and washed off my limbs. It blew my mind to see blood streaming off my body and down the drain.

What are the biggest changes in MMA from the first year you started and today’s MMA?

Training methods, the science behind training, and skill levels have all skyrocketed! I used to go to jiu-jitsu class one evening, kickboxing another, and lift weights the next day in the lead-up to a fight. Now, I have multiple sessions a day—including private lessons with my head coach who teaches me strategies, and takes the time to correct little details of my technique.

An example of the skill progression in MMA over that time shows up in how fighters handle being in guard. Now, somebody in top guard is winning with ground and pound because they know how to defend submissions from the bottom. The bottom guy usually has a much harder time sweeping or submitting the guy on top, and takes a lot of damage.

What are some thoughts and feelings the days after a win, and also after losses?

After I win, the following week is euphoric. I enjoy looking at pictures and reading congratulatory messages from fans, friends, and family. I relive in my memory various moments of the fight.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

I feel so proud of myself that I was able to pull off the victory. I put my heart and soul into training, so it’s the most satisfying feeling in the world to have it pay off. I take a week off, and then review the fight with my coaches to see what I can improve on. There are always areas to improve.

After a loss, I feel devastated and a soul-crushing weight on top of me. I had put everything into preparation and combat in the cage, but still couldn’t emerge victorious. My coaches had confidence in me, but I couldn’t do it. I have trouble sleeping, and flashes of the fight haunt me for weeks and even months. Eventually, when I can bare to rewatch the fight, I sit down with my coaches and go over my technique, making a plan on how to improve.


That’s not a question, but yes! I get it!

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

I always hold back in training, which sometimes works against me when I’m working with very aggressive training partners. In a fight, I won’t hold back any power in my technique or speed in order to apply my techniques. I don’t want to cause any injury, but I want to make her tap out or give up, so I hit as hard as I can and wrestle her to the ground with every ounce of my being.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

What’s your greatest personal victory/accomplishment outside of MMA?

One of my greatest personal victories was becoming Kids Coordinator at my English school, Berlitz Japan, in Kawasaki. I didn’t get a lot of education on how to teach kids before I had to lead a class, and I felt so stressed and awkward for so long. I hated teaching kids so much! I used to cry in the bathroom before class.

After being forced to do it for years, I got better and better, and then started getting requested by parents and kids. Finally, I started enjoying it and realized that I was the best person for the job of Kids Coordinator. I took a course at HQ and was awarded that title.

I think kids are our future, and raising them is the most important job in the world! I also became a certified ‘mentor,’ which meant I got to teach new instructors how to work with kids and adults.

Roxanne holding up Berlitz mentor certificate in 2011

Tell us about your journey towards proper strength and conditioning training, and the difference.

I have always hated ‘lifting weights,’ which is what I thought S&C was supposed to be. Maybe back in the day – when I first started – that what it was, but MMA has evolved. I was left in the dust in Japan with no guidance. I never felt any benefit from what I did on my own, so I convinced myself that I didn’t need it. I told myself that I’d get so good technically that it wouldn’t matter if I had muscles or not!

Unfortunately, times were changing and it seemed like all fighters were becoming athletic beasts. I met Lorenzo Pavlica around five years ago and training with him has changed my life.

Lorenzo and Roxy with hammers

My chronic back, neck, and shoulder pains eventually lessened, my athletic ability increased exponentially. I became able to do techniques I previously couldn’t do simply because my body didn’t have the physical capabilities to perform them. Lorenzo played a huge role in my success as a fighter, and also improved my standard of living.

Hi, Roxyfighter. 🙂

Hi to you too! I always appreciate the energy and effort fans make to send me a message, and I always try and reply. As a kid, I didn’t have many friends so it makes me so happy to have people wanting to talk to me. If I died tomorrow, it would be with a happy heart and a smiling face.

Thank you to everyone who’s taking the time to read this article, and who cheers for me during my fights. One of the best things about being a fighter for me is having fans who are nice to me. Maybe even you can change the world just by smiling at somebody and improving their mood a little, spreading positive vibes into the universe.

Thanks to Kombatjunky, Paulmcuomo, Vrunner12, Fwm_pod, K___stark, Samayoasun, Thebarbellresistance, Yazan.odeh, Mck7az, Johanisak82, & Artembilavskei_MMA for providing the questions. I appreciated hearing from each of you.

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About the author
Roxanne Modafferi
Roxanne Modafferi

Roxanne Modafferi is a former UFC fighter with 19 years of MMA experience. She’s fought for titles in the UFC, Strikeforce, and Invicta. A jiujitsu blackbelt, she teaches jiujitsu at the gym, and English in the classroom. Roxanne has self-published three books in addition to contributing articles for this site. In her free time, she watches anime and plays video games (Twisted Metal, Skyrim, etc).

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