Josh Gross
Wednesday November 4th, 2009

Pursuing passions is a way of life for Roxanne Modafferi. At the moment, she's happily chasing two, though that number seems to vary by the day.

"I'm pretty busy, not too much of a social life," said Modafferi, who is scheduled to face Marloes Coenen at Strikeforce card Saturday. "That's one of the drawbacks."

Conjoined at the top of her to-do list: become the best female fighter in MMA, and speak flawless Japanese. In a sense, the latter helped her find the former.

Following high school, Modafferi enrolled at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where she jumped into the linguistics program. Downtime was rare. From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. she worked at a bagel shop. Classes filled her days, and gym time occupied evenings. Some would say earning a degree from UMass in four years is as impressive as anything Modafferi accomplished in the fight game, and there is plenty to boast of when it comes to that.

Modafferi spent her junior year in Japan, where her fistic and linguistic skills were put to the test. Having participated in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu throughout high school, she was a fan of MMA after watching Caol Uno compete in the UFC in 2001. In college, she sought out facilities at which to train, including the Amherst Athletic Club, a small gym partly owned and operated by Kirik Jenness, a pioneer of the online MMA community who will work her corner Saturday.

Fighting, it seemed to Modafferi, made as much sense as her dream of becoming a United Nations-caliber interpreter.

"I haven't gotten as good as I thought I would in Japanese," she said, "but my vocabulary for martial arts has gone up a lot."

After graduation, Modafferi returned to the island nation, and today calls a tiny one-room apartment 30 minutes outside Tokyo home. As she did in Amherst, Modafferi spends her waking hours working and training.

Unfortunately, there just hasn't been enough fighting.

Saturday's bout versus Coenen (19-3), a rematch of a 2007 contest the highly regarded Modafferi (13-4) took on points, is her first in 12 months. Though the inability to land a fight was "really depressing," she focused on refining her game, becoming "a master" at her trade and "achieving perfect technique."

Let no one suggest Modafferi is a woman who sells herself short.

Stepping in on late notice after injury forced Erin Toughill off the Strikeforce-promoted, Fedor Emelianenko-headlined event, Modafferi, who generally competes at 135 pounds, has been asked to move up in weight to the division now ruled by Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. A validating win over Coenen could put Modafferi, who considers herself among the 10 best female fighters in the sport, in position to challenge the woman that dismantled Gina Carano last August.

"I'm definitely a different fighter than I was two years ago," Modafferi said. "I don't know about Coenen. She's coming off a loss, but we all have our days. I'm just going to try and imagine she's an all-around fighter and will do everything right. So I have to go in there and do everything better."

The opportunity to fight in the States on a stage of this magnitude is not an option in Japan, even with combat sports being such an engrained part of the culture.

Japanese people "aren't shocked to hear you're a fighter," she said, "but it's definitely not as well respected [as the men]. We just want to fight. I think everybody is happy and glad that women are getting a chance."

Modafferi considers herself part of a unique sorority.

"I think it's a lot different" than men's MMA, said the self-described mat-rat. "We all know each other and mess with each other. I just enjoy it. It's my passion. And actually getting in a cage or a ring is a challenge. It's a test of all my training, all my skills. It's a way for me to know if I'm improving and to see how good I am against other women."

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