No ordinary Jo breaking barriers and stereotypes
Nothing cagey about Calderwood as she joins the frontline of the UFC revolution
IF you are looking for someone to obliterate all stereotypes of UFC fighters, then Joanne Calderwood fits the bill perfectly. Last month in Las Vegas, the 28-year-old made history when she became Scotland’s first female to take part in a UFC contest, a fight she duly won.
Any of the preconceptions that I may have had about UFC competitors were laid to rest within the first minute of talking to Calderwood. She is so softly spoken that she sounds much younger than her 28 years and shows no hint of the arrogance or aggression that is synonymous with so many male fighters. This gentle exterior belies her vicious striking power inside of the cage, however. The Scot initially took up Muay Thai (Thai boxing) when she went along to a class with her brother at the age of 13 and has been involved in martial arts ever since, finally migrating to UFC.
The largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world, UFC, which originated in America, is thriving so Calderwood could not have timed her progression any better. 2014 was a remarkable and eventful year for the Scot, who lives and trains in Kilmarnock.
Last summer, Calderwood took part in ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, a reality TV show combined with a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competition. Calderwood lived, trained and eventually competed against 15 of the world’s best female MMA fighters. As she describes the experience, it sounds much like Big Brother, except she had the luxury of beating-up her fellow contestants at the end of the show.
“This was the first edition of The Ultimate Fighter with an all-girl cast. It was totally crazy, that’s the only way I can describe it,” she said. “It was really hard being in the house and living with all the girls because I like to keep myself to myself but we weren’t allowed any access to the outside world at all. It was a really tough experience, but a great one.” In the end, Calderwood won her first fight before being defeated by eventual finalist Rose Namajunas from the US.
It was when Calderwood left the Ultimate Fighter house though, that she turned her attention to making her full UFC debut. Fighting in the 115lbs division, Calderwood defeated South Korea’s Seo Hee Ham by unanimous decision after three rounds in Vegas on the December 12, with the victory propelling her into the picture for the women’s straw-weight UFC title, which she hopes to challenge for in the future. She admits though, that she does not dwell on her achievement.
“I don’t really think too much about being the first Scottish girl to fight in the UFC and I don’t like to talk about it because I’d never want it to look like I’m feeding my ego or anything like that,” she says. “I’m just really happy to have been given this opportunity and I’m so grateful that I can make a living by doing what I love.”
Calderwood is blazing a trail, not only for Scottish athletes eager to try UFC, but also for girls who may realise that this is a viable sport for females to pursue. “Being seen as a role model isn’t something that I’m completely comfortable with”, she concedes. “But if I do open doors for other girls to come into the sport then that’s a bonus. I really just want to show both girls and boys that with dedication, hard work and sacrifice, you can do anything.”
To say that Calderwood exists in a predominantly male environment would be an understatement of quite epic proportions. “I’ve always been the only girl in the gym so it’s never bothered me that I always train with guys,” she says. “The guys I train with are quite small so it’s not like I’m fighting against huge men but still, it’s tough. The training for MMA is really hard because you have to learn so many disciplines. There’s so many different parts to our training and there’s only so many hours in the day.”
On top of Calderwood’s demanding training schedule, she must make weight for every fight, the part of her sport which she describes as “definitely the hardest thing”. Calderwood is comfortable at 135lbs but fights at 115lbs, requiring a drop of almost one-and-a-half stone. “You just have to be disciplined and really strict with yourself,” she says. “You have to know when it’s ok to have a treat and when it’s not. That’s just part of being a professional athlete.” A ‘treat’, as it happens, is a Milky Way or a handful of chocolate buttons.
So, for the Scot, 2015 presents endless possibilities. She will fight again in the next few months and is currently awaiting confirmation of the venue and her opponent. And last week, there was confirmation that the UFC Championship is coming to Scotland, the event will take place at The Hydro in Glasgow on the July, 18. It is a prospect which Calderwood describes as “awesome” as it will allow her family and friends to watch her live, rather than having to stay up into the early hours of the morning to watch her fight in America on television.
“UFC isn’t very high profile in Scotland, I think we’re a little bit behind with it here”, she says. “It might be because we don’t have many fighters so if fighting at home attracts a little bit more attention to the sport then that would be absolutely fantastic.”
SOFT-SPOKEN BUT HARD-HITTING: Kilmarnock-based Joanne Calderwood is making strides after her Las Vegas victory