Top-10 ranked strawweight Joanne Calderwood has her mind set on fighting through the crowded 115-pound division of Invicta Fighting Championship to its title. With only a year and a half of professional MMA experience, she appears to have found the path at the foot of the summit. However, for her, it’s not a race to the top, but more of a focused and steady climb.

Calderwood will have some competition on the way up against the other ladies that are trying to stand out on their own to gain consideration towards title contention as well when she competes alongside them this Saturday at Invicta FC 6 Coenen vs. Cyborg.

The popular Rose Namajunas squares off against Tecia Torres, Bec Hyatt fights against Jewels standout Mizuki Inoue, and Calderwood’s originally scheduled opponent, Claudia Gadelha, was moved up to the co-main event against Ayaka Hamasaki. That’s several other ladies, on this card alone, fighting for the spotlight and looking to make noise in the strawweight division.

“I think it’s the most exciting weight division in women’s MMA and [I’m] not just being biased, but the amount of talent at 115 surpasses any other,” Calderwood told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “Every one of the girls you mentioned are talented and dangerous. I’m happy to be in the mix with them. There’s a lot of great fights there for me.

Calderwood (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

“As far as the title shots, I’m just going to keep getting better in the gym, keep performing and winning…and the belt will come. I’ve no doubt about that.”

Even with a roster of chock full of great names, Invicta has been forced to play hot potato with various match-ups due to the injury bug. It’s something that has affected everybody, and is even being felt at the top of the ladder. In fact, both of the co-main event fighters from this event were scheduled to fight for the inaugural strawweight title against Carla Esparza at Invicta FC 4, but both withdrew for vastly different reasons (Hamasaki had to defend her Jewels title in Japan and Gadelha, who replaced her in the match-up, suffered an injury). Fights were shuffled and eventually Esparza met Hyatt, who was pulled from a match with Calderwood. Calderwood ended up taking on 1-0 Livia von Plettenberg.

Still, the Scottish-born fighter isn’t holding on to the frustration of having to take a less significant fight nor does she possess a grudge against Hyatt. She’s more focused on listening to what her team thinks is the best course of action with regards to the future of her career.

“Invicta needed a title fight. I was offered the fight with Carla before Bec and my coach turned it down,” she explained. “Of course I would have done it if it was down to me, but should I really be the Invicta champion on a record of 5-0 and taking it on a week’s notice having only been in MMA for a year? Once I get that belt, I will only probably get to fight one to two times a year. My management made the right choice, and I’ve managed to get another two fights under my belt since then.

“To be honest, I’d quite happily fight all the 115[-pounders] before I got the belt, but that’s just me. I like to fight and I like to know I deserve something, not just fill in for someone that got injured.”

Invicta’s strawweight champion, Esparza, was originally scheduled to face Hamasaki at this Saturday’s event, but withdrew due to injury. It’s an unfortunate event that has robbed Calderwood of a contender-worthy opponent in Gadelha. It’s also similar to the circumstances of her last fight for Invicta, in terms of losing the opportunity to face a popular name and being saddled with a seemingly less-experienced fighter in 2-0 Norma Rueda Center. And again, “JoJo” is taking it in stride.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Calderwood said. “I’m not going anywhere. Invicta obviously have plans for title contenders and future fights. The main thing for me is as long as I’m on the card—performing and entertaining. Well, that’s me doing my job, and I can’t be overlooked.”

The same way that Calderwood believes that the right attention will come for her in time, she also believes in giving proper respect to her upcoming opponent. Center said yes to the fight, and that’s all that Calderwood needed to hear to move forward.

“I know she said yes to fight me, and [I] have great respect for her stepping up,” the Glasgow native explained. “My fight camp has been better than my previous ones. It doesn’t matter who I fight at the end of the day, I’ve done the best fight camp so far and ready to do anything for the win come the 13th. I expect some things of Norma, but I’m prepared for anything.”

Center’s professional record of two fights is misleading. She’s actually riding a seven-fight streak of wins. It’s similar to the deception of just looking at the paper of Calderwood’s pro MMA run, because she’s had a successful career in Muay Thai and kickboxing since she started training in 2000. Both prove the unperceived amount of depth that fighters bring into this multi-disciplined sport, even if they are babes on paper.

Calderwood (L) delivers a knee (Jerry Chavez/The MMA Corner)

That’s why Calderwood keeps her head down and focuses on being prepared as if she was going to fight any of the world’s strawweights rather than adjusting to different opponents and skill sets. For her, the biggest hurdle against any opponent is “that it’s a fight, anything can happen.”

“I only think about my skill set,” she added. “My team would never send me into an MMA fight based on my striking solely. If I wanted to do that, I could fight Muay Thai. My striking in MMA is a lot different from how I fight under Muay Thai rules. I live in the gym. I’m learning every day and spend more time grappling than I do striking now. I compete as much as possible in BJJ—I’ve been a blue belt for about two years—and submission grappling. Most people question how well-rounded I am because they haven’t see all my fights.”

So why should she rush it? Calderwood is still young in her MMA career, even though she comes from an extensive striking background. So it’s probably better that she is given the time to build herself up to audiences.

Since Calderwood has debuted in Invicta, the 26-year-old has moved up from the preliminaries to higher spots on the main card for her last two outings. She was also featured in a co-main event slot in her native country of Scotland (where she was the first-ever professional women’s MMA fighter) for Cage Warriors Fighting Championship in her last fight. Her established European popularity is also translating to a rise across the pond as well.

Calderwood and her camp understand that it takes time to establish one’s self in MMA. She approaches the sport with the discipline of hard work and a humble mindset when it comes to declaring who her next opponent should be. She can only control what she can do to be the better fighter. Listening too much to the combat sport world’s hype and rushing ahead to the next biggest match might have the unnecessary weight of that hype or desire for a bigger spotlight blur the focus that got her to this point.

“[Whomever] Janet Martin wants to match me with, like I said, I’m here to fight them all,” Calderwood asserted. “I think what separates us is my mentality; same with all the other girls. I know I’m different.”

Well, that and the dazzling display of standing elbows, high kicks and knees that she delivers to her opponents. Calderwood may take the modest approach, but it might be harder for fans to do the same if she has another healthy showing at Invicta FC 6: Coenen vs. Cyborg this Saturday. After two noticeable opponent changes in a row, many might be hoping that she gets an established name that can stay put on the card for her next trip out, even if she’s not the one calling for it.

Joanne would like to thank the ninjas in her fight camp, her sponsors: MAL apparel, Sandee Thailand, Funky Gums, SAS Nutrition, Physio Effect, and Devil’s Own. Follow her on Twitter: @badmofo_jojo and Facebook: Jo Jo Calderwood

Top Photo: Joanne Calderwood (Jerry Chavez/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.