The debate over sparring as an effective tool in training for MMA has been a hot button topic for several years, especially after a number of athletes opted to cut down on those intense training situations due to the toll it was taking on them prior to the fight.
Head trauma is already a concern for anybody competing in combat sports and taking unnecessary damage in the gym can speed up the potential for serious injuries. And for retired MMA pioneer Roxanne Modafferi, the punishment she was absorbing while preparing for her fights really started to chip away at the enjoyment she had for the sport.
“I started getting headaches after sparring,” Modafferi revealed this week on The MMA Hour. “So I was spending most of my day stressed out that I was going to get hit and concussed.”
Modafferi found a solution to those concerns when she started wearing protective gear in her training sessions, but that also led to more frustration at times.
“I finally figured out how to wear headgear and that problem got better,” Modafferi said. “But then people would pull on it and I’d get stuck, and I want to do jiu-jitsu but my head gets pinned. The other time I was training with Lauren Murphy, she visited me, and we’re doing jiu-jitsu in our sparring and she had me in an armbar almost, like I was on top and she was under and she didn’t have my arm, but she was pushing on my headgear and the strap was like strangling me. It was funny but it sucks.
“People go really hard these days, like young people, and I want to just train this one move that we learned in class and someone else is doing another move and muscling me around. I’m like, dangit. Kind of like my style of training is not on par with certain other people. It’s just frustrating. I’m trying to find my groove in training and it’s not the same.”
As a veteran with 50 fights (including her two stints on The Ultimate Fighter) and nearly 20 years of experience on her resume, Modafferi has understandably put a lot of miles on her body, not only through competition but also through the training sessions that no one actually sees happen.
Of course, “The Happy Warrior” has always been a huge advocate for martial arts and it’s nearly impossible to find a time when she’s not smiling while talking about the sport, but Modafferi knew a time would eventually come when it was time to call it a career.
That’s what led to her final fight this past weekend at UFC 271 as Modafferi engaged in a three-round battle with Casey O’Neill on the preliminary card.
Most of the week leading up to the event centered around Modafferi’s retirement, and that only amplified the emotions she was feeling while knowing this would be the last time she would set foot in the octagon.
“It was very challenging overall because I have a lot of emotions about it,” Modafferi explained. “I’m happy that I can move on. On the other hand, I’m sad to be leaving, but I’m not having as much fun training MMA anymore. So it’s a whole whirlwind and I’m trying to take it all in and just focus, and I feel like I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself lately like, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to win! Mortal Kombat aggression!’
“I kind of wanted to have more fun with this fight, so it was actually nice and a really good thing that people were being so positive about it, so it actually helped me enjoy the moment. I was able to be very clear-headed walking to the cage and just feeling this energy. So it helped me.”
After three high-paced rounds, Modafferi ultimately lost a split decision, which definitely stung at the time but she can still walk away with her head held high knowing that she left everything in the cage that night.
That’s also why Modafferi is fully confident that she’s competed for the last time, and she’s satisfied with the legacy she’s leaving behind.
“When I fought, I kind of came away thinking that I had won and I was disappointed by the decision, and when I went home and I watched it last night, I felt like I touched her a lot,” Modafferi said. “Like, I punched her so much my hand was sore ... but then I feel like maybe she got more significant strikes. She wasn’t moving as much from my strikes as I was from hers, so that’s probably why the judges gave it to her.
“I can accept that, but I was really proud of my performance. I felt really sharp and I felt like I had improved even from my last fight. I felt like my hard work paid off, except that I didn’t get to win.”