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Paul Varelans: 1969-2021

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Sad news in the world of mixed martial arts, as one of the most popular figures from the early days of the UFC, Paul Varelans, passed away Saturday at the age of 51.

Known as „The Polar Bear,“ Varelans made an immediate impression in his Octagon debut thanks to his imposing frame and a 62-second knockout of Cal Worsham at UFC 6 in 1995. And though there wouldn’t be any tournament titles or world championships in his brief three-year MMA career (which included eight UFC bouts), he left a mark with all fans of the early UFC.

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FROM THE UFC ENCYCLOPEDIA (2011)

Paul Varelans

Nickname – The Polar Bear

Height – 6-8

Weight – 300

Date of Birth – September 17, 1969

Hometown – Sunnyvale, CA

Professional Record – 9-9

UFC Record – 4-4

Few nicknames are as apt as the one given to Mr. Paul Varelans. One look at the 6-8, 300 pounder, and you would instantly agree that “Polar Bear” fits the bill. But beyond his moniker, Varelans was a staple of the early UFC broadcasts, a powerful and effective fighter who was resilient in the face of danger, and who was able to beat fighters like Cal Worsham, Mark Hall, and Joe Moreira consistently. Yet when he stepped up against the next level of competition, UFC standouts like Tank Abbott, Marco Ruas, Dan Severn, and Kimo Leopoldo always prevailed. This pattern continued in his post-UFC career (which lasted until 1998), with losses against Igor Vovchanchyn and Mark Kerr.

UFC 257 Fight By Fight Preview

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MATT FREVOLA VS. OTTMAN AZAITAR

This week’s reminder of how deep and talented the lightweight division is comes in the form of this clash between Matt Frevola and Ottman Azaitar, who both step into the Octagon in search of their third straight victory this weekend.

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“The SteamRolla” lost his promotional debut, but is unbeaten since, following up his entertaining draw with Lando Vannata with consecutive decision wins over Jalin Turner and Luis Pena before having multiple assignments fall through in 2020. Now 8-1-1 overall, the Florida-based New Yorker looks to extend his unbeaten streak to four by halting Azaitar’s quiet climb up the lightweight ladder.

The 30-year-old Azaitar arrived in the UFC with an 11-0 record including seven first-round finishes, and hasn’t missed a beat since, posting back-to-back wins over Teemu Packalen and Khama Worthy without making it to the end of the opening frame. The compact powerhouse is brimming with confidence and could establish himself as someone to watch in the 155-pound weight class with a third straight finish on Saturday.

MARINA RODRIGUEZ VS. AMANDA RIBAS

It’s a battle of Top 10 Brazilian strawweights to kick off the main card as Marina Rodriguez and Amanda Ribas go head-to-head in what should be a highly competitive affair.

After registering two wins and two draws in her first four UFC appearances, Rodriguez suffered the first defeat of her career in her lone outing in 2020, landing on the wrong side of a split decision verdict against former divisional champ Carla Esparza. The Muay Thai stylist already owns a win over Tecia Torres and battled Cynthia Calvillo to a stalemate, which helps cement her standing as a Top 10 talent, but if she wants to move closer to contention, she’ll have to turn back the hard-charging Ribas.

Ribas earned a pair of victories in her 2019 rookie season in the UFC, including a unanimous decision win over Mackenzie Dern, and followed it up with two more triumphs during her sophomore campaign to push her record to 10-1 overall. The 27-year-old is considered one of the brightest rising stars on the UFC roster, and a victory over the talented and battle-tested Rodriguez will propel her into an even bigger matchup next time out.

The competition for a title shot is fierce in the strawweight division at the moment, with several athletes all a win or two away from contention, which makes this contest critical for both women’s chances over the next 12-18 months.

Will Rodriguez get back into the win column or can Ribas keep rolling and earn her fifth straight UFC triumph?

Dalcha Lungiambula Wants To Show His Warrior Spirit

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Losses are always hard to swallow, but for Dalcha Lungiambula, his first loss in the Octagon brought additional challenges.

“It was not an easy time for me,” Lungiambula told UFC.com. “After my fight in Russia, I got an injury. I broke my jaw, but it was not like a bad, bad time. It was also a motivating time.”

The aforementioned loss came via a front kick knockout against Magomed Ankalaev in late-2019. More than a year later, Lungiambula is hoping to regain the form of the six-fight winning streak he brought into that fight in Moscow.

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“I always learn from my mistakes,” he said. “I learned from that, and it doesn’t take me down. My spirit was there, and we’ll move forward from there.”

Up next for “Champion” is Markus Perez, who is stepping in on short-notice after Isi Fitikefu pulled out of the scheduled bout.

Perez, though he is coming off a trio of losses, has a reputation for entertaining and grueling scraps, which is exactly what Lungiambula is looking for in this fight. In his mind, it’s the perfect opportunity to get back on track and gain some traction in the light heavyweight division.

“I expect a good fight. I know Markus, he’s a good fighter. He’s one of the top opponents I was looking for to challenge myself and see my level… I’m looking for the finish. I’m really looking for this finish.”

RELATED: Roxanne Modafferi Embraces Every New Challenge | Tom Breese Eyes A Run To The Top | View The Full UFC Fight Night: Chiesa vs Magny Fight Card | Preview The Card Fight By Fight | Significant Stats

To sharpen his skill set, Lungiambula traveled to the United States for his fight camp, splitting time with his coaches as well as the crew at Xtreme Couture. It was a necessary move for Lungiambula, who feels like he can now settle into his status as a UFC fighter as he approaches his third fight in the promotion.

He’s also excited to fight in front of a crowd, as Ethiad Arena in Abu Dhabi is allowing a limited number of fans inside. While he never fought on a card without fans, he is eager to feel that energy again and share the energy of combat sports with people outside of those directly involved with the fight.

Most importantly though, Lungiambula wants to make a point with a rebound performance. He admits his last fight wasn’t his strongest performance for a multitude of reasons, but he is prioritizing the opportunity he has to respond to that adversity when he fights Perez on January 20..

“I want to say it’s about when you fall down, you keep on going forward and it can determine a true warrior,” Lungiambula said. “I was a true warrior. I fell down, so it is a bit of motivation. It’s not just you fell down and you stay there. You fell down and you need to stand up and move forward.”

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Chiesa vs Magny: Fight By Fight Preview

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FRANCISCO FIGUEIREDO VS. JEROME RIVERA

Francisco Figueiredo arrives in the UFC flyweight division eager to follow in his brother’s footsteps as he debuts against tough New Mexico product Jerome Rivera.

A little less than two years younger than his brother, UFC flyweight kingpin Deiveson Figueiredo, the 31-year-old “Sniper” is 11-3-1 overall and unbeaten in his last three. Though he’s fought an uneven collection of opposition over the last couple years, working with his brother and the team he’s assembled can only help the younger Figueiredo, who will need to set aside the pressure of living up to his brother’s exploits as he makes the walk to the Octagon for the first time.

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Rivera earned a win on Season 4 of the Contender Series, but didn’t secure a contract, only to receive a short-notice opportunity a couple weeks later. Though he landed on the wrong side of the results against Tyson Nam, it was a way onto the roster for the Luttrell/Yee MMA & fitness representative, who is 10-3 overall.

Can Figueiredo earn a victory to become the latest brother tandem to each score wins in the UFC or will Rivera spoil his debut and collect his first UFC victory in the process?

MIKE DAVIS VS. MASON JONES

Contender Series alum Mike Davis looks to build off his third-round stoppage win over Thomas Gifford here as he makes his third UFC start against promising promotional newcomer Mason Jones.

Davis was favored heading into his matchup against Sodiq Yusuff on Season Two of the Contender Series, which tells you how highly folks thought of “Beast Boy” back then. Though he lost that contest, Davis responded with consecutive stoppage wins under the Island Fights banner to earn a short-notice opportunity in the Octagon, then bounced back from that loss to Gilbert Burns to stop Gifford in October 2019.

Injuries kept him sidelined throughout 2020, but now he gets the chance to remind everyone of his potential with another prime assignment against a fellow talented lightweight as he welcomes Jones to the Octagon for the first time.

The 25-year-old Jones was a two-weight champion under the Cage Warriors banner, winning the lightweight and welterweight belts in his last two appearances. Just the second fighter to achieve the feat — Conor McGregor is the other, in case you’re wondering — “The Dragon” carries a 10-0 record and a ton of potential into his debut on Wednesday.

Both men have the potential to make some noise in the lightweight division going forward, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this one shakes out.

UFC Fantasy: Significant Stats – UFC Fight Night: Chiesa vs Magny

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Top Finishes: Michael Chiesa

Top Finishes: Michael Chiesa

Key Stats: 6 submission wins (tied 10th all-time), 3.84 takedowns per 15 minutes, 51% takedown accuracy

What It Means: As soon as Chiesa made his move up to welterweight, it was a wonder how the Washington-based fighter ever made the lightweight limit. His grappling-heavy style matched in par with the extra 15 pounds at 170, and he’s been able to implement a strong pace in fights. Chiesa has improved his striking and mixes that into takedowns along the fence rather seamlessly. He grinds his opponents against the fence, switching between takedowns and dealing some damage, and if his opponent starts to fade, he is adept at seeking out an opportunity for submissions, particularly rear naked chokes.

View The Entire UFC Fight Night: Chiesa vs Magny Fight Card

Top Finishes: Neil Magny

Top Finishes: Neil Magny

Key Stats: 11 decision wins (tied 3rd all-time), +1.81 striking differential (5th all-time among WW), 59% takedown defense

What It Means: Neil Magny has long been one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division, and his recent trio of wins over Li jingliang, Anthony Rocco Martin and Robbie Lawler have given a sense that Magny is set to move to the next level of competition. Magny is strong at keeping a good distance in striking, but in close quarters, he has good strength and control that negate his opponent’s goals.

What to Look For in the Fight: In a battle of welterweights looking to make the leap into the upper-echelon of the welterweight division. Both are pretty well-rounded with favorable ways they want the fight to go. Chiesa strikes to initiate grappling exchanges, and Magny is solid enough in those moments to get back to the feet. How Magny uses his range to stave off Chiesa’s forward pressure will be interesting, and who dictates that pace as the fight moves into the later rounds could prove pivotal in whose cardio holds up better.

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Other Fights to Watch (Roxanne Modafferi vs Viviane Araujo, Tom Breese vs Omari Akhmedov)

Key Stats: 34.9% control time percentage (3rd all-time among WFLW), 56.6% significant strike defense (8th all-time among WFLW), 36.8% takedown accuracy (4th all-time among WFLW)

What It Means: While Modafferi has made major improvements in her standup game, her bread-and-butter will always be her grappling. She is patient yet tricky, and her vast experience shines in moments where her opponent might think there’s an escape route available. Modafferi, when on her game, can snuff those things out and make life rather miserable for her opponents. She’s particularly strong in the clinch and uses a variety of trips, throws and other techniques to get the fight to the ground.

RELATED: Modafferi Embraces Every New Adventure

Key Stats: 4.77 strikes landed per minute, 92% takedown defense, 1.88 takedowns per 15 minutes

What It Means: Araujo is a dynamic, athletic fighter who implements a high-octane style of striking. She is constantly bouncing in and out of range, exploding into range with flurries and diverse strikes, but in close quarters, she is strong and stuffs takedowns pretty well. Because of her style, she is at risk of fading a little bit as the fight goes on, but her power and speed are such that she can reserve energy for explosions when the moment is needed.

What to Look For in the Fight: Look for Araujo to put Modafferi on the back foot early with her in-and-out style, but Modafferi’s experience and ability to use her opponent’s leverage against them is something to watch for as well. Early, Araujo’s athleticism will probably make her the more dynamic fighter, and Modafferi’s ability to handle that speed is key. Modaferri is the fighter more comfortable at a grinding pace, and if a lot of this fight takes place against the fence and in close quarters, she’s likely dictating the bout.

RELATED: Watch The Special Wednesday Fights On ESPN+

Key Stats: 3.77 strikes landed per minute, 75% takedown defense, 7:05 average fight time

What It Means: Breese is a cerebral, well-rounded fighter who has all the tools to be a highly-rated fighter. When he is locked in, there are few weaknesses in his game. He has some pretty slick, dangerous grappling and loves to look for a rear naked choke, but in his UFC run, his best success has come on the feet. He is a tight and technical striker who likes to pick his spots and sit down on punches when the window presents itself.

Related: Tom Breese Eyes A Run To The Top

Key Stats: 2.56 takedowns per 15 minutes, 50% takedown accuracy, 57% significant strike defense

What It Means: Akhmedov is a bulldog of a fighter that can wither an opponent down with his physicality, particularly in grappling exchanges, and work against the fence. He is a durable fighter with a wrestling-based attack, and while he can land heavy shots to end a fight, his goals usually circumvent controlling his opponents first before unleashing punishment.

What to Look For in the Fight: Akhmedov is likely going to try to negate Breese’s striking by pressing forward against the fence and tiring him there, so how Breese reacts to those exchanges is key. Whether it’s through his jiu-jitsu or in successfully staving off takedown attempts and picking his strikes, Breese has perhaps more tools technically, but Akhmedov does have the kind of style that can suck the life out of a fighter.

*Hasn’t competed enough in weight class to qualify in UFC Record Book

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UFC Fight Night Holloway vs Kattar Bonus Coverage

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Performance of the Night: Li Jingliang

Most of the narrative around Li Jingliang’s fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio circulated around the latter’s return, but in the end, “The Leech” came away with his hand raised.

As Ponzinibbio probed in hopes of quickly finding his timing, Li took advantage of the countering opportunities provided from Ponzinibbio’s errant strikes. In one such exchange, Li slipped a shot and came over the top with a left hand to the chin that immediately dropped Ponzinibbio and ended the bout.

“I really expected to either knock him out in the first round or Santiago knocking me out because he is such a powerful fighter,” he said. “I would’ve actually preferred to go all three rounds to show off more of my skillset, but it feels great

“Santiago is such an aggressive, intense fighter and we were prepared for him. The coach told me as soon as the fight began to match his level of intensity, to not back down.”

Performance of the Night: Alessio Di Chirico

Coming off a three-fight skid, Alessio Di Chirico bounced back in a big way, knocking out Joaquin Buckley in the first round via head kick.

Di Chirico seemed locked in early, managing distance as Buckley weaved in with power shots. About two minutes into the fight, Di Chirico timed one of Buckley’s dips and caught him with a right head kick to the temple. It was an important performance for the Italian middleweight, who will surely look to follow up on his big performance soon.

Fight of the Night: Max Holloway vs Calvin Kattar

In Max Holloway’s first non-title fight in more than four years, the former featherweight king dismantled an incredibly game Calvin Kattar in the first main event of 2021, setting the bar high for any fights that may come to challenge its standard.

Holloway looked as sharp as ever right from the jump, connecting with extended flurries that left Kattar scrambling against the fence and looking to throw one-shot bombs. “Blessed” fired rapid-fire straight punches, leaving few windows for Kattar to respond. The Massachusetts-native  took his chances as they came, but Holloway mixed up his rhythm well as the fight progressed into the second round. Holloway also found plenty of success with elbows that opened a big cut on Kattar’s forehead.

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The fight seemed like it was going to come to an end at several points, but Kattar got his shots in as well, particularly a heavy uppercut in the third round that paused the onslaught of pressure from Holloway. It was here where Holloway committed to body shots, digging hooks into Kattar’s ribs and working his way up from there to win another lopsided round.

The fourth and fifth rounds were all Holloway, featuring several moments where the fight seemed incredibly close to a stoppage. Kattar showed immense toughness, though, firing heavy shots when it seemed like he was melting against the cage. In the end, Holloway displayed the form that shot him up into the G.O.A.T. conversation and reminded everybody that the 29-year-old is very much still in play to recapture his belt. The final scorecards were 50-43, 50-43 and 50-42 – a true reflection of the dominant form Holloway showed.

Overeem vs Volkov To Headline Feb 6 Fight Night

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Top ten heavyweight contenders look to smash their way into the title picture to begin 2021, as Alistair Overeem faces Alexander Volkov in the five-round main event of UFC Fight Night on February 6. 

UFC Fight Night will air live from the APEX in Las Vegas on ESPN+.

Fresh from back-to-back knockouts of Walt Harris and Augusto Sakai, the Netherlands’ Overeem is showing prime form on his way to a showdown with Russia’s Volkov, whose six Octagon victories have him poised to take out „The Demolition Man.“

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UFC FIGHT NIGHT: HOLLOWAY vs. KATTAR UPDATE

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UFC® FIGHT NIGHT on ESPN+: HOLLOWAY vs. KATTAR takes place today, Saturday, January 16, on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. For the first time ever, the main card will be televised live on ABC and simulcast on ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes (Spanish), beginning at 3 p.m. ET/12 p.m. PT. The prelims will kick things off at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT, exclusively on ESPN+.

Dana White Gives An Update On Khabib Nurmagomedov

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The retirement of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov after his October 2020 win over Justin Gaethje was a shocking one, but after meeting with UFC President Dana White on Friday, it appears that “The Eagle” isn’t closing the door on a return.

“Basically, the way that he feels right now is he’s accomplished everything he set out to accomplish,” said White during Saturday’s UFC Fight Night broadcast on ABC. 

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But…the unbeaten 32-year-old did admit that Brazil’s Charles Oliveira was impressive in his win over Tony Ferguson, and with Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier headlining UFC 257 on January 23 and Michael Chandler and Daniel Hooker doing battle in the co-main event, the Dagestan native will be watching closely.

“If these guys can do something special, Khabib will fight them,” said White, also explaining that while a return from Nurmagomedov is far from a done deal, the champion made it clear that he will not tie up the division, meaning that sooner rather than later, there will be clarity in the 155-pound weight class.

And a lot for the top guns in the division to fight for next weekend. 

See the entire clip below

Stay tuned to UFC.com for updates.



Roxanne Modafferi Embraces Every New Challenge

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It was evident the second she picked up the phone and made crystal clear when the avid cosplay enthusiast filmed a brief Mortal Kombat-inspired clip of her as the character Kitana as she departed her condominium complex in Las Vegas to embark on her journey to “Fight Island.”

“I have found my balance in training and I’m really, really happy,” said the 38-year-old veteran, confirming her return to being “The Happy Warrior” and having successfully navigated the numerous challenges that dragged her down ahead of her September engagement with Andrea Lee.

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“I had an injury that I was getting over and then one of my coaches left, so I was trying to find different coaching balances,” continued Modafferi, explaining the issues that contributed to her “not as joyous as usual” nature prior to her second meeting with Lee in September, which she won by unanimous decision. “Now I’ve finally found that and things in my fight camp have come together very nicely now.”

In case anyone needed further evidence that athletes continue to grow and learn things about themselves late in their careers, Modafferi remains a beacon of insight.

Not only has she transformed from a grappling specialist into a more well-rounded fighter in the second half of her now 18-year, 43-fight career since joining forces with John Wood and the team at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, but the coaching challenges that troubled her ahead of her third and final appearance of 2020 proved illuminating, as well.

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“In Japan, I didn’t feel like I had a main coach, so I’ve been through the periods where I really didn’t have that support, and so I feel like I should be able to push through anything at this point,” began Modafferi, who had already completed one stint on The Ultimate Fighter and logged 30 appearances before her opponent this week, Araujo, had made her professional debut. “Also, on The Ultimate Fighter, it wasn’t my normal coaches, so I’m hard on myself and think I should be able to push through anything.

“However, it’s really great emotionally and mentally to know I have these guys in my corner,” she continued, speaking about Wood and her new wrestling coach, UFC veteran John ‘ Guns’ Gunderson.

While some fighters switch coaches numerous times over the course of their career, others stick with the same crew for extended periods of time and, in either case, building a connection and establishing trust with those individuals takes time and is vital to an athlete’s success.

Shuffling things around can bring about uncertainty and doubt, and when you don’t have the time to establish a strong rapport prior to stepping back into the cage, it can lead to greater anxiety and nerves, even for someone as experienced and knowledgeable as Modafferi.

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Having once again established a strong connection with her coaches, the two-time TUF contestant and most experienced member of the flyweight ranks is eager to get back into the Octagon and show the world what they’ve been working on.

“‘Guns’ and John coach me every day in sparring and place themselves next to wherever I’m sparring, and they corner me and I’m grateful for that,” offered Modafferi. “I’ve recognized that, as a fighter, I need that — I need that in order to really thrive.

“I started working with ‘Guns’ — he’s been giving me wrestling lessons — and I got back with John Wood, who has helped me find some literal balance in the way I stood in my stance and I feel like I’m more sharp now than I have been in the past,” she added. “I’m super-excited to show my big improvements in this fight.”

RELATED: Lerone Murphy’s Slow And Steady Rise | Michael Chiesa’s Top Finishes | Neil Magny vs Craig White Free Fight

Two other factors that have contributed to Modafferi returning to her natural state of positivity and excitement are that she’s not facing off with a familiar foe and that for the second straight year, she’s getting an early start on her campaign inside the cage.

“I want a challenge and I want something new; I don’t want to be bored and fighting the same person over and over,” she told me in September ahead of her bout with Lee, whom she had faced and beaten under the Invicta FC banner just under six years earlier.

The 34-year-old Araujo owns a 3-1 record inside the Octagon and arrives in Abu Dhabi off a unanimous decision win over Montana De La Rosa in September. After debuting at bantamweight and registering a third-round knockout victory, she returned to her natural flyweight surrounds and out-hustled veteran Alexis Davis before dropping a unanimous decision to recent title challenger Jessica Eye at UFC 245.

Though Modafferi is currently stationed one spot ahead of her Brazilian foe in the flyweight rankings, it’s the type of quality pairing and potential victory the veteran needs in order to make headway in the 125-pound weight class.

“I am so excited with Viviane,” Modafferi blurted out enthusiastically when asked about her first assignment of 2021 and getting her wish to face someone who could potentially help her climb closer to title contention. “She’s new and I’m stoked to fight somebody new.”

In addition to wanting to face fresh competition, the Syndicate MMA representative wants to stay as active as possible and appreciates getting a January assignment for the second year in a row.

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“It’s wonderful; I’m so happy,” said Modafferi, who authored one of the biggest upsets of the year last January when she defeated highly regarded prospect Maycee Barber at UFC 246 in Las Vegas. “I fought three times last year and there are more opportunities now because of COVID and people falling off cards.

“That’s sucks for them, but it seems like there are more opportunities and I’m really excited about that.”

After sounding slightly down, like there was something gnawing at her that she was unable to resolve ahead of her last fight, it’s nice to hear the positive energy return to Modafferi’s voice ahead of this bout with Araujo.

Clearly, the issues of last year have been dealt with, balance has been restored, and “The Happy Warrior” is full prepared to embark on another adventure.

Cue the Mortal Kombat theme.

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