Some MMA fighters experience a career turnaround following a losing streak, and Roxanne Modafferi's resurgence was one of the most impressive to date. She once had a six-fight losing streak, and as I watched her fight for Valkyrie and Jewels, I worried along with other people about the coaching and training that she was receiving. Following a move to the United States, Modafferi drastically changed her MMA career after a stint on TUF 18 that included a submission win over Valerie Letourneau, who will challenge Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 193. Since signing with Invicta FC, Modafferi has shown rapid improvement in the striking department.
While asking her questions, I thought about the language barrier that she endured when learning MMA techniques in Japan. When explaining the nuances of a technique, coaches often use slang or abbreviations, which can be difficult to understand for people from other countries (I feel this often, too).
I believe that Modafferi's knowledge of Japanese is better than 95% of foreign Japanese learners, but she still admits to a language barrier and that says a lot about the difficulties of learning MMA techniques in a second language.
This is an interview with an MMA fighter who has trained in two countries and knows the difficulties of cultural differences. She has persevered through these struggles on the path to the happiest day in her career.
When you began your career in Japan, there were no stable MMA organizations that could provide consistent fights for women outside of Japan. Many western female MMA fighters could not find enough fights in the early era and either retired or stayed in the sport for many years and fought way past their prime. You have had a long career and, after a tough losing streak, you seem to have now entered the prime of your career. How do you feel about the course of your career and how did you make it through the difficult situations?
I feel that my career has been exciting and full of adventures. I trained very hard every night while working during the day. In the beginning, it was enough. Then MMA continued to evolve as a sport and my working full-time plus training became too much. I also had a hard time learning how to strike. I love grappling but struggled for a long time to do kickboxing effectively. I started on a losing streak. That changed once I decided to move back to America to fight full time, and I joined the gym Syndicate MMA in Vegas. I can't say that I regret moving back sooner because I loved my life in Japan. I'm still fighting and climbing my way to the top!
While you were still in Japan, which fighter impressed you the most? Was it someone you fought or just someone who taught you something important?
When I was living in Japan, I looked up to K-Taro Nakamura because he could take everybody's back and choke them out. I eventually bought his book on RNC. He used to teach at Keishukai every Saturday. I learned the single leg back control from him.
During your TUF 18 elimination fight against Valerie Letourneau, you took her back and finished her with a rear-naked choke. I got the impression that what you learned at Wajyutsu Keishukai worked during the turning point in your career (taking the back and finishing with a rear-naked choke is a common move at that gym). Is that a technique that you learned from Wajyutsu Keishukai? If not, who taught you that move?
It's true that I loved doing rear naked choke at Keishukai. However, I learned the move years ago way before moving to Japan so I forget who actually originally taught me.
You have shown rapid improvement in your striking since joining Syndicate MMA. You control distance, use a variety of combinations and have great elbow attacks now. How has John Wood taught you these things and what convinced you to accept his teachings?
I'm an "audio" learner rather than visual, so that means I need someone to explain details of techniques to me, not just show me, or I can't understand. In Japanese, that was really difficult. Even though I did private mitt sessions with a trainer, I don't feel I advanced a lot. Syndicate owner and Coach John Wood has the ability to really explain striking to me and "train me" through repetition so I can understand. Knowing my learning style, I tried out his gym for a week, decided that he was the guy I could entrust with my new hope for my career. I said to him, not "I'd like to join your gym," but rather, "Will you be my coach?" Starting the next week, I've done extra mitt sessions every week for the last two years in addition to the well-run MMA classes. That's how I was able to improve so much.
UFC does not currently have a 125-pound division. They only have 135 and 115. How do you feel about your division's absence in the UFC? Do you feel that Zuffa should add a 125 division?
I'm sad my weight class is not in the UFC. I hope it is soon.
Invicta FC does have a 125-pound division and DEEP Jewels has also recently created that weight class as well. Of course, you want to challenge Invicta FC champion Barb Honchak, but how would you evaluate the DEEP Jewels 125-pound division? Did you watch champion Ji Yeon Kim's fight? Please provide your impression of her if so.
I haven't been able to easily watch Deep Jewels since I moved back to the U.S. I haven't seen Ji Yeon Kim. I remember last year seeing a few fights and being disappointed in some technique. That was due to my new perspective - I recognized a bunch of techniques the fighters didn't do that I had just learned at Syndicate. I found myself thinking, "if only they could train with me at Syndicate!" I think JMMA has been surpassed in certain ways.
You are known for your hobbies: Anime, Manga, gaming, movies, music and so on. What are some of the current "hot things" in your hobbies?
I've been trying to catch up on old anime that I've fallen behind in, like One Piece and Naruto and DBZ Kai. I've gotten into new ones like Attack on Titan. I'm SO excited that I can see the live-action movie during my Japan visit! I also try to study Japanese in my free time. Thanks to Skyping with my friend Goto-san and him correcting my Japanese blogs, I haven't lost my language skills.
Your nickname is Happy Warrior. What makes you the happiest? Fighting itself, conversations with coaches and training partners, interacting with fans, everyday life or something else?
I try and look at everything in a positive light, and I try and find the good things about every situation. I appreciate everything. Talking to people makes me happy, training and challenging myself makes me happy, seeing other people smile makes me happy!
Please share a message for your fans about your fighting career and future.
You may not realize it, but as my fans, you play a big part in my motivation and happiness. When you cheer for me, or send me an email or Tweet or Facebook message of encouragement, it inspires me to try harder if I'm feeling down or hurt or tired. I feel like my life has some more meaning than simply me fighting for fun. It makes me think that there's no way I can let the Happy Warrior retire any time soon! I still have so much more positivity to spread! I want to make friends with EVERYONE, and show that fighting can be an honorable athletic contest, not an angry brawl where someone enjoys inflicting pain on another.
Roxanne Modafferi Official Twitter
Big thanks to Robert Sargent (MMA Rising) for English editing.