Roxanne Modafferi was a bridge too far for one of the sport’s most heralded prospects.
The Syndicate MMA standout leaned on takedowns, positional control and heavy ground-and-pound, as she stunned the previously unbeaten and heavily favored Maycee Barber by unanimous decision in the featured UFC 246 prelim on Jan. 20 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Modafferi—who closed as a +700 underdog—was awarded 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 nods from the judges, having authored Sherdog’s 2020 “Upset of the Year.”
Barber, who was 5 years old when Modafferi made her MMA debut in 2003, spent much of the first round pinned beneath “The Happy Warrior,” but her situation took an ominous turn in the second. After absorbing a Modafferi jab, the 21-year-old prospect’s left knee appeared to buckle underneath her. Modafferi moved into top position and sliced open the stricken Roufusport export with a well-placed elbow strike that had blood flowing freely.
“I did not say I needed to show my dark side,” Modafferi said. “I’m still a good jedi, except in the cage. I really wanted to use some elbows, maybe seem a little more scary, maybe cut her a little bit. My hands are a little bloody, so I guess I did that, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be scary. The results speak for themselves.”
Barber retreated to her corner with a visible limp between rounds, clearly compromised by her injured knee. Modafferi and those with whom she had surrounded herself took notice.
“Between rounds two and three, my coach said that her knee was hurt and to keep it standing,” she said. “This was the first time in my 45 fights that I’ve known an opponent was injured, but this game is merciless. You just have to keep going and try to win.”
Modafferi struck for a takedown in the third round, used her veteran guile to exploit the situation, extracted herself from an attempted keylock and chewed up the remaining time with effective grappling. By the time it was over, she had outlanded Barber by a 112-25 margin.
“This win was super gratifying,” Modafferi said. “I’m very relieved and pleased with my performance. I felt like my strikes have gotten stronger than in the past. I’ve got awesome coaches at Team Syndicate.”
Perhaps no fighter in MMA fits the underdog role better than Modafferi, who has not been favored in any of her 10 appearances in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The fact that Barber entered the cage at 8-0 and on the strength of six consecutive finishes only enhanced the dynamic.
“I had and have a healthy respect for her,” Modafferi said. “I have a pretty good chin, so I knew her strikes wouldn’t down me. I knew I could do it. I just had to go do it. I’m always the underdog. I don’t dislike it. I just accept the fact, just like I know I’m never going to be scary.”
Afterward, it was confirmed that Barber suffered a complete ACL tear.
“We think she injured it in the first 10 seconds,” her father said. “She stepped on Roxanne’s foot as she backed up and felt a pop. You can see the knee give out on the side. She went back and started fighting and trying to do things, and I noticed she was flat in a way I’ve never seen before.”
Barber remained gracious in defeat.
“What a life,” she wrote on Instagram. “Tonight may not have gone my way but there is not a single piece of regret in me. I am so blessed to live the life I have and I thank God everyday for the people in it. Thank you @roxyfighter for sharing the octagon with me tonight. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t plan on walking out of there 9-0 but I did what I could and tonight that wasn’t enough to get my hand raised.”