There’s a line in the well-known Semisonic song “Closing Time” that goes, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” The band has said that the lyrics speak to the topic of becoming a new father, but the line can really relate to almost any new chapter in life. It certainly applies to the bittersweet set of emotions that a group of female strawweight fighters has to be feeling right now, as they say their goodbyes to Invicta Fighting Championships and venture off to become the first 115-pound ladies to compete for the UFC. Undefeated Scottish fighter Joanne Calderwood is one of these ladies.

“I was very emotional talking to [Invicta President] Shannon [Knapp] after the announcement, as she was the one that gave me the opportunity to fight in America,” Calderwood recalled in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “She brought me to her promotion with only two fights and only seeing me fight once. I have her support and with her believing in me, I can only go on and do even better with that in my heart. It will always be a ‘Never forget your roots,’ for sure!”

Just over a week ago, the UFC announced that it had acquired Calderwood and 10 other strawweights, including Invicta champion Carla Esparza, from the all-female promotion and would host a strawweight title tournament for its 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter. UFC President Dana White had hinted at the addition of strawweights in the weeks prior, but nobody, including Calderwood, expected the promotion to undertake the expansion to a new weight class in such a swift manner.

Calderwood (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

Calderwood (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

“I found out just before it got announced. I was so excited to hear the news, as I knew it was happening, but it was sooner than I expected,” Calderwood said, while admitting that what she’ll miss the most about Invicta is its staff and fans.

As the 26-year-old acknowledged, Invicta was a beginning of sorts for her. She started training in Muay Thai when she was just 13 years old and claimed numerous Muay Thai and kickboxing titles in the years that followed, but she was just 3-0 as a mixed martial artist when Invicta added her to the lineup of its third event. She responded by earning “Knockout of the Night” honors with a first-round victory over Ashley Cummins and went on to notch decision wins over Livia von Plettenberg at Invicta FC 4 and Norma Rueda Center at Invicta FC 6. She might have been little more than a newcomer when she set foot in the Invicta cage for the first time, but she had grown into a star by her second and third appearances there.

With a 7-0 mark, she took to the cage again on Dec. 7 at Invicta FC 7. Her opponent this time was Katja Kankaanpaa, another undefeated rising contender in Invicta’s strawweight ranks. The Scottish fighter was pleased with her performance in the three-round affair.

“Yes, I was satisfied, as it’s the first time I’ve dealt with a game plan that I knew I would need to stick to, as Katja is very good at what she does. And to neutralise her skills was great,” Calderwood admitted. She noted just a single disappointment: “I could have got a finish.”

Kankaanpaa’s reputation is that of a grinder. The Finnish fighter was 8-0-1 heading into her contest against Calderwood and had fought such notable names as Mei Yamaguchi, Simona Soukupova and Aisling Daly. However, Calderwood’s scouting of Kankaanpaa resulted in some expectations that she found to be less than accurate when she engaged the Finnish fighter in combat.

“I try to expect anything so that there is no surprises when I get in there, but I did think she wasn’t as strong as I thought she would have been,” Calderwood revealed. “In the fights of hers I watched, she dominated the other girls.”

The win seemingly put Calderwood in position to challenge Esparza for the Invicta crown, but a turn of events later in the evening shifted the focus to fellow strawweight Tecia Torres, who defeated Felice Herrig and was subsequently called out by the champ. You’d think that after all her hard work, Calderwood would be disappointed by the way the situation played out.

“No, I love that stuff,” Calderwood countered with a laugh. “It means the spotlight is off me and I get to do what I do and sneak up and take what’s mine the way I like to. To be fair, it wasn’t Tecia that’s mentioned a title fight, it was Carla after Tecia beat her best friend, Felice Herrig.”

Talk of an Invicta title is a moot point now that Calderwood is UFC-bound. Oddly, though, her most recent opponent, Kankaanpaa, is not among those included in the UFC’s roster of strawweight acquisitions.

Calderwood (L) delivers a head kick (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

Calderwood (L) delivers a head kick (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

“There are other girls in there coming off of losses that I don’t think are as good as Katja,” Calderwood said, noting her surprise in Kankaanpaa’s absence from the announced cast. “She would beat a lot of the girls going in.”

Many of the top ladies in the division have been included in the cast, though, including Esparza, Torres and Claudia Gadelha, but five spots remain open. The UFC’s plan is to hold a set of tryouts in 2014 to fill those final spots in the bracket.

“I think the five that have to try out might be [overlooked], but also will be the more dangerous ones, as they will be pissed they had to try out,” Calderwood said. “I won’t be overlooking any of the girls.”

The honor of fighting for the UFC is something almost every fighter dreams about, but entering into The Ultimate Fighter house, on the other hand, can be a daunting prospect. There’s the close-quarters living with 15 other people, there’s the isolation and there’s the way it can affect each fighter in the cage. So, is Calderwood dreading the scenario or looking forward to it?

“A bit of both,” she confessed. “The hardest part will be being away from my team. But I’m looking forward to fighting hopefully as often as three times in six weeks, and I’m going to make sure I make the most of it and feed it into my badmofo mode.”

The house can bring out the worst in anyone. Through the years, we’ve seen ugly feuds and bad behavior of all varieties. It can also force people to face the awkward situation of competing against fighters with whom they are good friends.

“I’ve always been professional from day one,” Calderwood said. “I have my friends and teammates here. I’m not in MMA for making buddies or the fame. I’m here to fight, and fight anyone put in front of me.

“I take this very serious. I get my head down and work hard. No one will get in the way of that.”

That professional attitude carries over to her preparation for the TUF house. The 19th season of the show has not even aired yet and the tryout to fill those five remaining spots on TUF 20 is planned for early next year, which leaves filming of the strawweight season to start in May. That leaves Calderwood with a five-month layoff.

“I’ll not be leaving the gym,” she said. “I have loads of time to get better at every aspect of my game, and not fighting till May means I’ll be as hungry as ever come fight time.”

The new beginning for Calderwood holds more significance that just a move to the UFC. The stakes for the TUF winner are greater than ever before. The one lady who emerges as the victor at the end of the tournament will take home more than a trophy, she’ll also have a bit of gold strapped around her waist.

“It would mean the start of a new journey,” Calderwood concluded. “‘Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.’ It would just be something else for me to cross off on my list of stuff to do.”

Joanne would like to thank the UFC for giving the fight world 115-pounders—“We won’t disappoint.” She would also like to thank Invicta for their forever support. Follow Calderwood on Twitter: @badmofo_jojo

Top Photo: Joanne Calderwood (top) battles Katja Kankaanpaa (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

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