Roxanne Modafferi is a pioneer in women’s mixed martial arts. She’s been fighting professionally since 2003.
And Saturday night, 14 years into her decorated career, “The Happy Warrior” put on her greatest performance.
Modafferi defeated Sarah D’Alelio by TKO at 1:37 of the third round in the co-main event of Invicta FC 23 in Kansas City. Modafferi rocked D’Alelio multiple times on the feet, had several close submissions and dominated the fight after being dropped early in the first round.
“Man, I’ve never felt better in my whole MMA career,” Modafferi told interviewer Laura Sanko afterward. “It felt so amazing.”
Modafferi turned her career around, when many thought she was done, since arriving in Las Vegas at Syndicate MMA in 2013 from her longtime home of Japan. At 34 years old, she somehow continues to improve.
D’Alelio hurt Modafferi badly in the opening minutes. Modafferi said she’s the hardest hitter she has faced. But “The Happy Warrior” persevered in a big way. She dropped D’Alelio later in the first round and likely ended up stealing the frame with work on the ground. Modafferi dominated the second round with punches on the feet and close submissions on the ground.
And in the third, she turned it on with violent elbows from mount. Modafferi dropped serious ground and pound on D’Alelio, opening up a huge cut. Referee Mike England, with blood pouring from D’Alelio’s head, had no choice but to stop the fight.
Modafferi (21-13) hasn’t always shown that kind of viciousness and aggression. Or that killer instinct. But she’s very much still a force in Invicta’s flyweight division. She has now won two straight and four of her last five. Modafferi’s only loss in that time came to Invicta champion Jennifer Maia.
D’Alelio (11-7) had won four in a row and was the favorite coming in. The 36-year-old California native owns a win over UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
In the co-main event, Agnieszka Niedwiedz stayed undefeated by beating flyweight stalwart Vanessa Porto by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Niedwiedz, known for her striking, surprisingly won the first two rounds based much on her ground work. She had Porto stuck in a precarious, near-armbar/triangle position for a long time in the second, but couldn’t finish.
Niedwiedz (10-0), who is just 22 years old, might have earned herself a title shot against Maia with this victory. Porto (18-8) has now lost two straight, the other against Maia in a title fight, after a three-fight winning streak.
It wasn’t her most scintillating performance, but Andrea Lee got the job done by split decision (30-27, 28-29, 29-28) against Liz Tracy. Lee clearly won the first two rounds (despite the cards of one judge) with her striking, but got caught in too many grappling exchanges with the wrestler and ground specialist Tracy late.
Lee (7-2), who is also the Legacy Fighting Alliance flyweight champion, has now won three straight since coming back from a drug suspension. Tracy (3-2) has a two-fight winning streak snapped.
Tiffany Van Soest, the Glory kickboxing champion and Muay Thai ace, bounced back from a loss in her Invicta debut, beating Christine Ferea by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Van Soest used her superior technique and footwork to keep Ferea at bay over the first two rounds. In the third, she got caught on the bottom and Ferea did some damage from top position.
Van Soest (1-2), a top prospect in MMA courtesy of her striking pedigree, fell to Kal Holliday by second-round submission in September. Ferea (1-1) defeated Rachael Ostovich by third-round TKO in January in her pro debut.
Former Invicta atomweight champion Herica Tiburcio put forth a split decision victory (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) over Tessa Simpson to win her second straight. Tiburcio (11-4) was on a two-fight losing streak before this current run. Simpson (5-2) came in on a three-fight winning streak.
In a matchup of UFC veterans, Kelly Faszholz defeated Elizabeth Phillips by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). Faszholz (4-2) dropped two straight in the UFC last year, but bounced back Saturday. Phillips (6-6) was coming off a unanimous decision over Sarah Howell at ExciteFight in February.
Also on the card, Ediane Gomes defeated Pam Sorenson by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) in a featherweight bout. In the opener, Yaya Rincon made her pro debut by beating Brooksie Bayard by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).