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Dear Roxy: ‘How do you manage to keep a poker face?’

Roxanne Modafferi tackles your questions, Happy Warrior style, in her ‘Dear Roxy’ column for Bloody Elbow.

Roxanne Modafferi back stage ahead of her UFC 271 bout against Casey O’Neill.
Roxanne Modafferi back stage ahead of her UFC 271 bout against Casey O’Neill.
Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

The Happy Warrior has returned!

I get asked lots of great questions by fans and fellow fighters, and I’d like my experience and knowledge to help everyone, so I’ve decided to start a ‘Dear Roxy’ advice column. Each month I’ll take your most interesting questions about fighting, training, and life in general and answer them to the best of my ability. Hopefully, we can all learn a few things along the way.

Last time around, we talked about planning out sparring sessions in the gym, making sure you choose your partners wisely and get the kind of helpful experience you need from training. We also talked about taking care of your body, and adressing potential underlying causes of injury—most particularly establishing stretching, strength, and conditioning routines to make sure that you joints suffer as little stress as possible.

This week, we’ll be talking about putting on your game face, creating a welcoming culture inside your gym, and surviving the Ultimate Fighter.


Dear Roxy,

How do you manage to keep a poker face after getting struck in the shin, or an already busted nose, or other parts of the body that are loaded with nerve endings? Does the adrenaline of the fight mask the pain, or do you have to make a conscious effort not to let the pain show through? - From ClowntimeIsOver


Dear ClowntimeIsOver,

Indeed, adrenaline masks most of the pain. From what I can remember from my distorted reality during my fights, it’s more the blows to the head that bothered me. If I got hit really really hard on the side of the head, it was like blinking really slowly. The world paused, or disappeared for a moment, and then came back. Only I felt slower. That physical reaction I experienced got in my way the most.

I’ve experienced getting mentally stuck on gameplans afterwards. For example, if the strategy was to try to throw strikes to close the distance and then do a takedown, I would go after the takedown like a Terminator. Even if they weren’t working and I should have changed the strategy to more kicks or punches, I kept doing the same thing and failing. In the beginning of a fight, I would be more clearheaded. It depended on how hard the person punched. For example, Viviane Araujo punched extremely hard. She’s maybe one of the top-five hardest punchers I’ve ever felt. If other fighters’ punches weren’t quite as strong, I would be able to walk through them and eat them easier without being affected. I rarely felt pain.

Regarding pain, I experienced more of sharp stinging jolts when struck in the nose, or an area already bruised up. They were annoying, but I was more concerned with the fact that my opponent hit me and was getting points. The little voice in my head said, “Oh no, that landed. You didn’t block that!” Actual pain didn’t bother me so much.

Regarding a poker face, this is actually quite a good point. I’ve been studying the Unified Rules more closely and it states that the judges are supposed to weigh more heavily the strikes that hurt or damage the opponent. If a fighter acts as if the painful strike didn’t bother them in the slightest, the judges may very well not count it as a significant strike. Therefore, a poker face would impact the outcome of a judges’ decision.


Dear Roxy,

How do you feel about the way MMA gyms/coaches handle LGBTQ+ issues and how you think they should be handled, as well as any advice you may have for the LGBTQ+ youth who are interested in or currently pursuing MMA? - From, MostlyInHerHead


Dear MostlyInHerHead,

In the gyms I’ve trained at or done seminars at, LGBTQ+ folks are treated with respect and warmth. When I did a seminar in Washington, I noted that Bellingham BJJ labels the bathrooms “Gender Neutral Bathrooms” to make everyone feel comfortable, although they’re just a typical toilet and sink. I guess the alternative would be “Women” and “Men” signs you commonly find hung on plaques on doors. The owner Jeff told me that it’s important to him to make an environment where everyone feels comfortable. I agree – everyone should have the opportunity to train and have a safe haven from daily stress.

The LGBTQ+ community should absolutely learn martial arts for self-defense, as they tend to be statistically attacked at higher rates. As for competition, there are no set guidelines and there’s a lot of conflicting data. Competing aside, I think everyone should be given the opportunity to train. Gym owners should welcome anyone in to train and practice as much as they want, and at the places I’ve been to, they are welcome. All genders typically train together, and members get to know each other as people who love martial arts.


Dear Roxy,

Which TUF were you most nervous for, which did you like more? Did you prefer one coach to the other? How was it knowing that you were more advanced in BJJ than some of the coaches and trainers? Is it easier (or maybe it’s harder) being that you’re in your hometown and you want to go to your own place and shower and sleep but you cant... but it’s just down the street (basically). -From, Anonymous


Dear Anonymous,

Well, before both of them, I was feeling lost and unsure of my next step. Before TUF 18, I was on a massive losing streak and my body was falling apart. Before TUF 26, I felt healthy and strong, also believing I had achieved a higher skill level. However, I was unable to take my career to the next level due to the fact my weight class (flyweight) didn’t exist in the UFC. I couldn’t make a living.

I felt more nerves and anxiety before TUF 18. I knew my career depended on that one fight to get into the house (against Valérie Létourneau). It didn’t really matter how high-level my jiujitsu skills were. Miesha Tate and her team were better than me at pretty much everything on TUF 18. Justin Gaethje and his team had fantastic wrestling, and I got good striking practice with Assistant Coach Luke Caudillo. Vinny Magalhães, who’s jiujitsu is actually far above mine, was an assistant coach on TUF 26 so that was super cool.

It was definitely weird knowing exactly where I was going. When I first went to Vegas for TUF 18, I couldn’t recognize anything. When they drove us around during TUF 26, I knew exactly where we were – like 15 minutes north of my apartment. That was pretty funny. I didn’t particularly want to go home. I wanted to beat up three girls and win the title.

As to who I liked more? There were awesome people on both seasons. I had a better experience and got along with more people on TUF 26. I’ll never forget how kind grappling coach Ricky Lundell was to me on TUF 18. Luke on TUF 26 was super supportive, and Justin is just a fun guy to be around in general.

TUF 26 Team Gaethje, 2018

If you’d like to submit your own questions for ‘Dear Roxy’ feel free to email me at basilisk875@yahoo.com, with the subject line “Dear Roxy”, or reach out on twitter @RoxyFighter with the hashtag #DearRoxy. Or simply leave your questions in a comment below on Bloody Elbow. Look forward to hearing from you all soon.