"But it's just Tara, you know?" the 27 year-old Modafferi says. "It's Tara LaRosa. So no, it's not really strange."
Though Modafferi goes to great lengths to avoid other opponents before a fight, at times ducking down hallways to prevent awkward pre-fight encounters, with LaRosa she could not have been more at ease.
"I have a special relationship with Tara, so it's not like with any of my other opponents," Modafferi says. "We're both from the East Coast, New England area, so we used to run into each other at grappling tournaments all the time. We've kept in touch over email, just talking about anything and everything, so we were pretty much friends before our first fight."
That first fight, back in March of 2006, didn't go Modafferi's way. LaRosa took a decision victory, handing Modafferi her second straight defeat – the only time in Modafferi's pro career that she's lost two in a row.
At last Friday night's Moosin event it was Modafferi who got the nod from the judges, though as she stood in the cage and waited to hear the decision she wasn't at all sure which way it was going to go after such a close battle.
"I thought I won the first round, she won the second, and I wasn't sure about the third. I was just really satisfied with myself and pleased with my own performance."
LaRosa, somewhat improbably, was pleased with Modafferi's performance as well. After the fight she took to Modafferi's Facebook page to tell her how proud she was of her as a fighter and friend, Modafferi says.
"That's a really special thing. We just tried to smash the hell out of each other, and she's proud of me for winning that? And I would have been proud of her, too. That's the thing."
After the fight Modafferi returned almost immediately to her adopted home of Japan, where she's lived for 4 ½ years teaching English. She admits that a third fight with LaRosa now seems inevitable, though if she were to lose it she knows she'd then have to insist on a fourth and fifth. It's a cycle that could theoretically go on and on indefinitely.
The big question for Modafferi is, what will the high-profile win over LaRosa mean for her career in Strikeforce? While she's currently under contract with the San Jose, Calif.-based MMA organization, Modafferi says she doesn't get enough chances to fight in the Strikeforce cage – a familiar complaint from the promotion's female fighters.
While there's a possibility she may now get a shot at Strikeforce's 135-pound champion, Sarah Kaufman, being the belt-holder might not necessarily mean more frequent fights.
"I wouldn't be able to live off of Strikeforce alone, definitely. I feel kind of bad for Sarah because she's their champ, so she can't just go get a fight in Moosin or King of the Cage like I did, which was nice. They're kind of irregular."
For now, the woman deemed the "Happy Warrior" by her fans is content to focus on her training and her teaching job, which she says she loves almost as much as fighting. That remains more of a passion than an economically sustaining career at this point. The status of women's MMA in both Japan and the U.S. may still be such that it's difficult to make a full-time living at it, but at least Modafferi gets the chance to get in the cage and have nights like the one she shared with LaRosa.
It's a moment in time that will stick with her, she says, and it already stands as one of the most memorable nights in her 6 1/2 –year career.
"Afterwards, where she hugged me and we bowed, I saw a picture of it later and we were both just smiling. I didn't feel like she hated me for winning, and I wouldn't have hated her for winning. It was just, I don't know. Just a really great moment."
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