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Rejuvenated Roxanne Modafferi is a happy warrior once again

Esther Lin

Roxanne Modafferi wasn't exactly sure what she was getting herself into when she first signed up for a mixed martial arts fight.

But she had a notion it was going to lead to something.

"I had a gut feeling it was going to lead to something big," Modafferi told "I couldn't tell you what, but I just had a feeling the stars would align.

There were no spots for women in the UFC back in 2003, when she had her first fight as a 21-year-old. No all-women's promotions. The Ultimate Fighter had yet to be conceived. No one was making any money.

And yet, the woman who came to be known as "The Happy Warrior" set off on a path all over the world as one of WMMA's early trailblazers.

"It was all about the love of competition, the thrill I got from competing," Modafferi said. "And I still have it today. That part of being a fighter has never changed."

That attitude has served Modafferi well as she's undergone a career rebirth, Now 32, Modafferi will seek her third consecutive victory since joining Invicta on Friday night as she faces Vanessa Porto in a flyweight co-feature bout at Invicta 12 in Kansas City.

Longtime WMMA fans -- or those who watched The Ultimate Fighter 18 -- are familiar with Modafferi's story. A major in Japanese at the University of Massachusetts, she made Tokyo her home base for several years. All was well and good with her career as she blitzed out to a record of 15-5.

But then the losses began mounting - a six-fight losing streak, in all -- and Modafferi began to question whether living as an American woman in Japan was the best for her career.

"It was frustrating, because you hear people talking about whether you have it any more, and then you start to question yourself," she said. "You start to wonder if they were right."

Her experience in the Ultimate Fighter house finally convinced Modafferi to move back to the United States and give the sport one last, real shot.

"The TUF house was a great experience for so many reasons," Modafferi said. "One of the biggest ones, though, was that it really brought to the surface that feeling that maybe I needed to make a major change in approach. I experienced the level of coaching we have here in the states and realized I had to come back and give it a shot."

Modafferi hooked up with the Syndicate MMA gym in Las Vegas, dropped down to flyweight and the results speak for themselves. Modafferi won a trilogy fight with fellow WMMA pioneer Tara LaRosa last September at Invicta 8 and followed with a victory over Andrea Lee at Invicta 10 in December.

Modafferi confesses she wasn't overly enthused when first presented with the option of fighting Porto. Modafferi defeated Porto via first-round TKO back in a Nov. 2008 bout in Los Angeles.

Ultimately, though, she realized the rematch was in her best interest, as Porto is ranked around No. 2 or 3 in most women's flyweight polls and Modafferi is still looking re-establish herself at flyweight after competing at bantamweight in the UFC.

"I wasn't thrilled," Modafferi said. "Most fighters don't want to rematch someone they already beat. I didn't see what was in it for me. But I realized she's a well-established name in the division, and really, so much time has passed since we first fought that I can't really even consider her the same fighter anymore."

A third consecutive victory would give Modafferi as solid a case as any for a shot at Barb Honchak's flyweight title. Honchak happens to be one of the foes Modafferi lost to during her six-fight losing streak, a third-round submission in 2011.

She doesn't want to talk about looking that far ahead, though. "Yup," was the extent of her answer, when asked if she thought she'd deserve a title shot if she beats Porto.

Fair enough. But one things for sure: Whether or not she gets a title shot, Modafferi is once again a happy warrior.

"I miss Japan, I really do. I miss it every day," she said. "But coming back and getting my career back on track is something I'll never regret. I'll never have to go through life thinking ‘what if.'

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