Maybe more than any sports fan would like to admit, context and circumstances play a significant role in an athlete’s career. In team sports, where a player ends up can influence their development and opportunities they are presented. In mixed martial arts, matchups, coaching and luck matters – maybe not as much as talent or hard work or skill – but it matters. The athlete has some agency, making their career a little bit more like a choose-your-own-adventure journey.
In Joanne Calderwood’s case, she knew she had the ability and the work ethic, but things weren’t clicking. A 3-3 start in the UFC prompted her to move to Las Vegas and start training at Syndicate MMA and the UFC Performance Institute.
Add in a permanent move up to flyweight, and “JoJo 2.0” was born. Two fights and two wins later, Calderwood finds herself with a prime opportunity to vault herself into the title-shot conversation if she gets by Katlyn Chookagin at UFC 238.
Looks like she chose right.
“I feel like I’m in the right journey,” Calderwood told UFC.com. “When the title shot comes, then it comes, and I’ll be ready.”
Calderwood’s performances against Kalindra Faria and Ariane Lipski displayed her growth in the grappling department, even securing her first submission win against Faria. Chookagin is known as more of a standup fighter, but Calderwood hasn’t been all too impressed with her last couple of fights, including a split decision loss to flyweight title challenger Jessica Eye.
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“Her last two fights, you can see the first two rounds, she runs away,” Calderwood said. “She’s on the back foot, and she just wants to counter, and she’s more of a points scorer. We have noticed that, and yeah, we’re preparing for everything. I’m even preparing for her to come touch gloves and try and take me down. We’ve covered all areas, and we’re expecting everything. I’m just going to go in there and react.”
The 32-year-old said she doesn’t want to get caught up in “chasing her and getting countered” but rather coming out aggressive and turning out a “violent fight that people want to see.”
This fight feels like the concluding section of this chapter of Calderwood’s career. Her move to Vegas brought her confidence and success, and it’s inched her closer to a belt – something that might’ve felt much further away than a 3-fight winning streak. Regardless, that’s the position she is in heading into UFC 238.
“When I look back since coming to Vegas just over a year ago, I’m so proud of myself,” she said. “I’m not really shocked because I know I’ve always had the potential.”
Should things go her way, Calderwood (mostly) joked that she’d go right backstage after her fight to warm up again in case something happens to either Eye or Valentina Shevchenko. She did say that she hopes Shevchenko defends her belt because she wants to be the one that takes her down.
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“When I envision who I want to fight, I want it to be Valentina,” she said. “She’s got a good reputation in the UFC with UFC fans, so I want to fight someone who’s a badass and is known as a badass, so that’s who I want to win.”
Given the improvements she made in the last year, who knows what she’ll show against Chookagin. What is sure is the confidence that she holds for herself, and the confidence she has in the choices she made for her career up to this point.
“I just want to go in there and react,” Calderwood said. “Whatever Katlyn turns up, I’m ready to expose her and have it be my fight.”
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.