It wasn’t that way in 2013 when her loss to Raquel Pennington on the TUF 18 Finale event marked her fifth in a row dating back to 2010. It was a rough patch that no one wanted to see one of the sport’s most popular fighters go through, and “The Happy Warrior” knew she had some hard decisions to make.
“What kept me going through the long losing streak was that I felt like I had more potential to grow and I didn’t want to give up before I explored that potential,” said Modafferi, who found some light before the Pennington fight in John Wood and the Syndicate MMA team in Las Vegas.
“When I joined Syndicate right after the show, I had been training with coach John Wood for about three months before the finale and I felt myself improve a little bit,” she said. “And when I fought (Pennington), I still lost the decision, but I did see improvements and I thought, ‘Man, I’m gonna try this one more time.’”
Her “one more time” wasn’t going to be in the UFC, but with Invicta FC, which signed Modafferi as a flyweight in 2014. And it was in her new promotion that she found a fresh start. But she had to win first.
“When I fought Tara LaRosa in Invicta, it did cross my mind, like ‘Man, if I still suck and I still can’t win, I have to think about my future,’” she said. “And when I beat Tara with my striking, I felt the improvement and I knew that I could go farther, so then all thoughts of retirement vanished from my mind.”
Since that decision win over the veteran LaRosa, Modafferi has won five of her next seven bouts, and while there have been the occasional retirement whispers from her father, the 34-year-old is back in and all-in, a prospect made even more attractive by the UFC’s adoption of the 125-pound weight class for the ladies.
“I was so ecstatic when I heard the news,” she said. “I had been hoping for that division to open up. My father has been in my ear a lot lately, like, ‘Honey, your age, you should think about getting a real job, blah, blah, blah.’ And I’m like, yeah, he has a point, but I really wanted to wait until my body couldn’t handle fighting anymore or the UFC opens the division and I would be able to get in. So I was waiting for that and, finally, they announced it and I was jumping up and down I was so happy.”
Happy is the usual attitude for Modafferi, hence her nickname, and that’s endeared her to a fan base that has remained by her side through good times and bad. That’s a reality not lost on the appreciative Delaware native.
“It’s really, really cool to me and such an honor,” she said. “Growing up, all I wanted was more friends. I didn’t have a ton of friends, and now that I have fans and friends behind me, I’m just so honored to have that and that really sends me positive energy and I’m so happy to have people supporting me.”
More should get on board during her second stint on TUF, where, win or lose, Modafferi represents the best of mixed martial arts while staying true to the essence of the sport…with a little twist.
“I feel like MMA is the ultimate challenge in life,” she said. “It’s the ultimate physical challenge, mental challenge, emotional challenge. You have to learn, you have to keep your cool, get stronger physically, everything.
“I feel like I’m a martial artist, and I’ve always admired superheroes, the people who have to combat odds and come back stronger and fight the bad guys,” Modafferi concludes. “I’m not fighting bad guys, but I’m fighting in life, and I just want to become stronger. And through MMA I’m able to challenge myself and become stronger. And now I’m even influencing other people. I’ve gotten fan mail with people saying I’m inspiring them and that’s so cool and I’d love to be a positive influence while chasing my own dreams.”