Cynthia Calvillo isn’t about to say being sidelined for most of 2018 was a good thing, but there were some silver linings over the last 11 months.
“There were a lot of changes also going on in my life, just dealing with moving and family and gym situations, so I think at the end of it, it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise,” said Calvillo, who served a nine-month suspension for a positive test for marijuana metabolites. “It was unfortunate what had happened with the suspension. I felt like I was very honest with the UFC and USADA and I followed the rules, but you need to be a more responsible and more cautious athlete. I accept responsibility for it.”
On Saturday, Calvillo, one of the top rising stars in the sport, makes her return against Brazil’s Poliana Botelho. It’s been a rocky road to get here, especially when you add in that the Californian missed weight by two pounds for the bout on Friday morning.
It’s a far cry from her 2017 campaign, where she began the year with a TKO of Montana De La Rosa in January, then made her UFC debut in March, kicking off a string of four Octagon bouts that produced three wins and put Calvillo on the international map at 115 pounds.
"I don’t want to be remembered as ‘Hey, that’s the pothead girl.’ I want to be remembered as the greatest ever. I want to build a legacy.”
But she handled the whirlwind like a seasoned vet, even if she didn’t have any time to enjoy the ride.
“I never really had a chance to take it in,” she said. “Unfortunately, it settled in after I lost and got the suspension and had all that time off. But my parents raised me very well so I feel like I’m very humble. I know the attention that comes with this, I know that there are so many ups and downs, so I try to stay as grounded as possible and I feel like I did a great job with it all of last year.”
Then came a close decision loss to former champion Carla Esparza to end the year, followed by the suspension, but through it all, Calvillo stayed in the gym, continued to evolve her game, and when the time came to return, she jumped on the chance to fight Botelho. And now, looking back, she feels like she needed a bit of a break to deal with real life, which included a move, the passing of her grandfather, and some team juggling as she remains both with Team Alpha Male and former TAM head coach Justin Buchholz.
“It gave my mind a little bit of a break because last year I was in a non-stop fight mentality,” she said. “I was jumping from camp to camp, so it not only allowed my body to heal up, but my mind as well. It was a hectic time and I think it would have affected me in the following fight. I wish it wasn’t this long – 11 months – but I feel good and I’m happy to be back. I feel a lot stronger mentally and physically.”So now it’s back to the business of gold chasing at 115 pounds. And 125?
“I’m excited to be back and I feel like I can climb my way up the rankings and I like everything that’s going on,” Calvillo said. “I did want to fight Joanna (Jedrzejczyk); I was hoping she wouldn’t leave (the division) before I got back, because I want to fight the best and she’s one of the best ever. So hopefully after I’m done with the strawweight division, I want to move up to flyweight because I’m intrigued. I see all these women who are the best out there and I want to fight them because it’s a challenge for me. I want to be the best in the world.”
It all begins – again - this weekend.
“I’m hungrier than ever,” said the 31-year-old. “The passion and fire is burning even brighter now and I’ve got a lot to prove. I want to put this whole situation behind me. I don’t want to be remembered as ‘Hey, that’s the pothead girl.’ I want to be remembered as the greatest ever. I want to build a legacy.”