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

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