Never count out Roxanne Modafferi.
“The Happy Warrior” was one of the biggest underdogs on Saturday’s UFC St. Petersburg main card, but she beat the odds with a grappling heavy split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) win over previously unbeaten flyweight Antonina Shevchenko (7-1).
Modafferi’s game plan was clear as she used her trademark unorthodox movement to avoid the worst of Shevchenko’s skillful strikes and close the distance. Once Modafferi was able to get past the edge of Shevchenko’s strikes, she pressured with punches of her own and put Shevchenko against the fence before scoring a pair of takedowns. Shevchenko defended well off of her back, but Modafferi closed the round in mount position.
Round two started with Shevchenko touching Modafferi up at will, but again she couldn’t prevent Modafferi from stuffing her against the fence. After dragging Shevchenko to the mat, Modafferi remained in top control for the majority of the period. The final round began in similar fashion, with Shevchenko starting off fast before having her leg caught by Modafferi, leading to another takedown.
Shevchenko showed strong defense off of her back, even managing to sweep Modafferi at one point. However, Modafferi proved to be the superior grappler, scoring with a sweep of her own to end up in full mount.
To Shevchenko’s credit, she refused to stay down and managed to get the fight back to the feet before being pushed against the cage again with about 90 seconds remaining in the fight. She connected with hard knees to Modafferi’s body, but ended the round in bottom position once again.
Modafferi, a 15-plus-year veteran of the sport, has now alternated wins and losses in her last four UFC fights, bouncing back from a unanimous decision loss to Sijara Eubanks last November to improve her pro record to 23-15. On the other side, Shevchenko, the sister of UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, fell to 1-1 inside the Octagon with her first MMA loss.
“Antonina is a very strong opponent, very skilled,” Modafferi said post-fight. “I knew I would have to do my best and I trained for takedowns off a southpaw and to move a lot.”
Asked who she would like to face next, Modafferi offered a bold challenge in jest before answering in typically positive fashion.
“I want to fight (Cris) Cyborg. Just kidding!” Modafferi said. “It doesn’t matter who I call out, it’s whoever. I’m just excited to fight another tough opponent who I can prepare for and grow and show my skills as a martial artist.”