It’s not every day that a seasoned mixed martial artist, who also happens to do some modeling, refers to herself as a nerd. Contrary to what some of the unappreciative folks feel about MMA, there’s nothing nerdy about stepping into a cage and squaring off against another person who’s been training to beat the heck out of you.

While MMA may not be represented by one really prominent comic-book superhero, there are plenty of fighters who like the comics. They like the characters, imagination and graphics of one of America’s oldest art forms. Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc is one of those fighters.

“I read comic books. I know that’s really nerdy,” said Rivera-Calanoc in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “The Vampire Lestat ones by Anne Rice, I haven’t found all of them yet. I’m still on the hunt for them. They’re actually really hard to find. I also like the Queen of the Damned ones, Dracula comic books, Batman, Green Lantern—I’m such a nerd.”

The 28-year-old professional MMA fighter mentioned some of the darker, vampire type of characters, but the age-old question to all comic book aficionados is: DC or Marvel?

Rivera-Calanoc (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“I like both,” admitted Rivera-Calanoc. “I really like the X-men, because I like Wolverine and Gambit. Gambit and Rogue are probably my favorites. I love Beast. I don’t know. I like both.”

Although DC Comics introduced the world to characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, who are three characters that a very frontal-minded martial artist might choose first to model him- or herself after, Marvel’s X-men character, Rogue, is easily identifiable with someone like Rivera-Calanoc. In fact, it’s really no surprise that the fighter loves Rogue.

Rogue is a character who is a young girl with two-tone hair, much like Rivera-Calanoc is known to sport. However, there is something about Rogue’s history that may not be as well known to the casual fan of the X-men movies.

Rogue was born a mutant, much like the other characters of the Marvel franchise, but she was not always on the side of the heroes. The character was originally associated with the evil mutants, until she eventually turned to the X-men, the good guys, for assistance in controlling her powers. In Nicdali’s previous fights, she suffered some losses herself due to polluted thought processes.

“It’s good to have confidence, but you don’t want to be overconfident,” explained Rivera-Calanoc. “I’ve had that issue in the past and it cost me fights. You know, that’s why I have six losses. If you don’t learn from that, then you’re going to be stuck where you are. You’re not going to grow as a person and a fighter. Fights are very hostile environments. Anything can and will happen. You have to be mentally and physically prepared for anything.”

When fighters get so swept up in thoughts like, “I’m going to knock this person out in the second round,” or, “I’m going to submit this person at 3:30 of round one,” they don’t always realize that they are setting themselves up for failure in the event that things don’t go their way. In fighting, it’s important to focus on any bout as the living, evolving organism that it is, being able to adapt and overcome to changes in the game plan. This is a paradigm shift that Rivera-Calanoc has embraced.

“I don’t like to say this is going to happen or that is going to happen, because, you know what, it’s a fight,” Rivera-Calanoc elaborated. “In a fight, it’s so unpredictable and it’s such a hostile environment, and you just never know what can happen. I’m just ready for whatever.”

The “Night Queen” has been gracing the professional MMA circuits, usually at night, for seven years, so she knows what she’s talking about. She has racked up an 8-6 record with four stoppage wins, all knockouts, and only three losses by stoppage. Coincidentally, she’s also 4-3 by decision, so she’s seen just about every outcome that a fight can result in. This puts her experience level eons ahead of many of her fellow fighters. Training gets easier and easier when you really know anything can happen.

Rivera-Calanoc’s last fight, her second under the Invicta FC banner, was a win she badly needed. After dropping her Invicta debut to Amy Davis by second-round submission, she was looking to get back in the swing of things to cement her standing as an atomweight contender. The Oklahoman was able to go the distance in predominant fashion, as she won the nods of all three judges. It was another great experience for her, having only been at .500 with her previous decisions. While she didn’t get the stoppage she wanted, she definitely gained some valuable takeaways.

“I learned that I can go hard all three rounds, no matter what,” explained Rivera-Calanoc. “I didn’t finish the fight, so we tweaked some stuff so that it would be possible this time to finish. We’ve just been finely tuning things. I’ve been doing this since 2005, so I can wrestle, I can do BJJ, I can box, I can do everything. We just tweaked to get better performance.”

And she will need an even better performance for her upcoming battle. Even though Rivera-Calanoc has faced some very notable opponents in Davis, Felice Herrig and Miku Matsumoto, on Saturday, July 13, she is set to face her toughest opponent yet in Jessica Penne on the Invicta FC 6 card, live from Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo.

Penne, who is 10-2 in her seven-year pro career and was the inaugural Invicta atomweight champion, recently, yet unsuccessfully, fought to defend her championship. As a dangerous striker and a submission artist, she is a force to be reckoned with. She also has a two-inch height advantage in this match-up. Of her 10 wins, six are by submission and she has beaten Davis and Sally Krumdiack, both of whom have beaten Rivera-Calanoc. However, that was the old Rogue. Now, it’s time for the new Rogue, the one with the clear mind whose sights are set high.

“I immediately wanted to take it,” said Rivera-Calanoc of her upcoming challenge. “They gave me a choice between two names, and I chose Jessica. I think that’s a good fight for me. I think it’s an exciting fight. I think it’s a fight that the fans want to see. I’m really excited about it. I’ve wanted this fight for a long time.”

Some people might feel that this is an aggressive choice for Rivera-Calanoc to make, but she’s been in the game just as long as Penne and knows what a win of this magnitude will do for the value of her stock, which coincides with her current primary goal.

“I’m definitely not looking past this fight and staying focused,” she said. “It’s a dream fight for me, but I still have future goals and aspirations and stuff. My goal is to be the Invicta atomweight champion by the end of 2014.”

Some may view this as lofty and aggressive, but this is the fight game, and for a seasoned vet like Rivera-Calanoc, it’s more than achievable. A win over Penne will bring her that much closer to her goal, and she knows exactly what to expect from her opponent.

Rivera-Calanoc (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“I think, stylistically, she’s a mixed martial artist as well,” explained Rivera-Calanoc. “I’m well-rounded and she’s well-rounded, so I feel like it’s going to be really exciting for the fans to watch.

“I see it being high paced. [Atomweights] are high, high paced. And I see myself winning in the end, no matter what.”

Even after nearly a year off, Rivera-Calanoc is more than ready for this match-up. She is a proverbial gym rat who lives and breathes training. Training is her life and her partners are her family—literally, in one case.

“Well, even though I haven’t fought in a year, I actually earned my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” said Rivera-Calanoc. “I would have gotten it sooner, but I’m so bad at coercing myself into actually training in a gi. But my coach is very strict and said I have to know all the handles and holds. You have all the handles you can grab on to, different chokes with the collar—it’s different, you know? I also earned my black belt in Calanoc Mixed Martial Arts Concepts, it’s an art form that my husband created under the American Federation of Jiu-Jitsu.”

Travis Calanoc, Nicdali’s husband, is a United States Marine Corps veteran, a fellow MMA fighter, and her head coach. Calanoc is 5-1 as a pro fighter, but he hasn’t competed since 2010, focusing mainly on coaching instead. He has black belts in multiple fighting modalities and has a couple of training accreditations. Needless to say, Nicdali’s husband is not just a guy trying to help his wife fight; he is a highly qualified coach and instructor.

In addition to her husband, Rivera-Calanoc has a stable of coaches and training partners that train at Ultimate Performance Complex in Tulsa, Okla. Her BJJ coach is Brandon Chandler, a four-stripe brown belt out of The Farm BJJ in Colorado, and her boxing coach is Dorothy Faas, who is well known both for her boxing and her involvement with the Freestyle Cage Fighting promotion.

Just like Rogue, Rivera-Calanoc has realized the importance of not only going through the paradigm shift in the way she views upcoming challenges, but even moreso, surrounding herself with the right people. With the transformation this fighter has gone through, Jessica Penne is in for a different opponent than fans have seen in the past.

“I’m feeling really good about everything. Everything is going the way it was supposed to. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I just do whatever I do before and everything’s on point.”

Nicdali would like to thank the Underdawgs Fight Team, The Bulletproof Executive, Onnit Supplements, Babes of MMA, Respect No Respect, Flying Filipino, Submission Soldier, Sangre Management, Funky Gums, and Invicta. Follow Rivera-Calanoc on Twitter: @Nicdali

Top Photo: Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc (top) controls her opponent (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

  • Great interview and keep up the great work Nicdali! Proud to be a sponsor and friend and can’t wait for Invicta FC 6 on July 13th!