The Ultimate Fighter
Joanne Calderwood knows what kind of position she is in when it comes to the flyweight title picture – perhaps one or two wins away from challenging Valentina Shevchenko for the belt. It’s a spot she found herself in several times in the last couple of years. She also knows what it feels like to have a title shot in her hands and lose it before even squaring off against Shevchenko in the Octagon.
It’s a spot that comes with internal and external questions, and Calderwood now knows enough about it to know how to manage all that comes with high-stakes fights, which is what she has on her hands in the form of Lauren Murphy.
“I just feel like it’s not good energy,” Calderwood told UFC.com. “It’s not good for me to feel like that and to be talking about that and be thinking about that. I just want to concentrate on Lauren Murphy and getting that job done because even with Lauren Murphy, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that, so it’s just trying to nail down all the pressures for being a fighter.”
Staying in the moment is all Calderwood is focused on, saying she’ll think about “all that other crap” after the fight. Given the fickle nature of the fight game, it’s a fair mindset to have. However, when asked about having fans in Gila River Arena for Saturday’s UFC 263 bout, Calderwood literally screams with excitement. Always a fan-favorite wherever she fights, “JoJo” cannot wait to feel the energy of the crowd.
Throughout her career, Calderwood appears to be the kind of fighter who truly does better with an audience – not in a showboating sense, but in the way she thrives in an energetic atmosphere. Calderwood partially jokes, partially admits that it’s because she “likes to get punched” and believes fans feed off that desire when she competes. That much was true in her bounce-back win against Jessica Eye at UFC 257, and she anticipates the same against Murphy.
“I’m really excited for this fight,” Calderwood said. “She’s awesome. We’re both tough. We’ve both got that pale skin, so we’re going to mark up easily. We’re going to be throwing it at each other and both wanting to pressure forward and strike, and I feel like this has the potential to be Fight of the Night.”
Murphy rides into the matchup on a four-fight winning streak and is potentially one signature win away from a title shot herself. It’s one she feels like she deserves, and a win over Calderwood could finally put her opposite Shevchenko sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, Calderwood knows all about that moment and that pressure, and she understands the kind of fight Murphy is bringing. It’s a fight Calderwood welcomes and one with which she feels familiar.
“I’ve always been in brawls and always been wanting to push that pace,” Calderwood said. “Right now, for my camp, it’s good to make sure I’m getting those scrambles in the gym, so I’ve just been making sure I’m getting that feeling and working on my cardio, as always. It’s about going in there knowing I’ve been there before, and that I can push that pace – just be in the moment and get that grind.”
Although Calderwood proudly represents Scotland, she has called Las Vegas home for several years now, training at Syndicate MMA under the tutelage of coach and now-fiancé John Wood. When she first arrived at the gym, Calderwood said fellow flyweight contender Roxanne Modafferi played a big part in welcoming her to the mat. The two would take turns running over to Wood to ask questions, and a constructive competitiveness pushed both to improve.
“I would be like, ‘Roxanne is doing this, how can we get better,’” Calderwood said. “She would be doing the same. We kept just getting bigger and bigger, and this is actually the first camp I’ve not had Roxanne in my camp, so it’s pretty sad because she’s recovering from her surgery, but it’s been a great three years. I did not think it would grow, but now, there’s more Roxannes, there’s more awesome people on the mat, and I’m grateful for that.”
The growth of the “Syndi-chicks,” as Calderwood calls them, is something in which she takes pride. However, when asked if she feels like she has become that veteran on the mat, the one that has opened the door for other women the way Modafferi did for her, she is a little bit more shy about it.
“I don’t really to talk about myself in that role,” Calderwood said. “But for sure, I do want to inspire and help other fighters and, also, when I retire, I want to be still involved in the team and the gym. I want to keep growing it and keep helping, so that’s just my nature. It feels good that I can help other people.”
Of course, retirement is far down the road for Calderwood. The challenge at present is a tough one and an important one, and although the road to her status as a mainstay at the top of the 125-division hasn’t been the smoothest climb, it’s the one that shaped her.
So, when she makes the walk in Glendale, she’ll relish the cheers (or the boos) and keep her eye out for any Scottish flags waving in the stands. The moment the Octagon door closes, she’ll throw herself into the fire because that’s where she is comfortable. When the dust settles, she’ll turn her eyes to what’s next, and perhaps, if everything goes right, the “next” involves some gold on the line.
“I’ve been so close, and it’s been taken away from me,” Calderwood said. “I’ve missed out, and so I kind of just want to go in there with the pressure of just her, Lauren Murphy, this is my next challenge to get past, and then I can think about the title picture.”