Five-minute interview: MMA star Joanne Calderwood discuses her UFC comeback

Joanne Calderwood shot to fame in 2014 after stepping into the UFC’s flagship reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter.

It was a major platform for the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and paved the way for her to become the first Scottish woman to be signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

But it was never the cameras or publicity which drew in the Kilmarnock athlete, who says she has always been more interested in “keeping it real” and focusing on her passion for mixed martial arts.

Described as the fastest growing sports in the world, MMA is full combat sport which includes many elements from karate, wrestling, boxing and muay thai, to name a few.
After almost a year out of the Octagon following an injury which put a halt to her last planned fight, Joanne, or JoJo as she is known by the UFC fans, is ready for her comeback on June 18 when she faces Canadian Valerie Letourneau.

We caught up with Joanne to find out about how she bounced back from a difficult end to 2015, her new training programme and taking part in the first woman’s flyweight match.
How significant is it for you to compete in the first women’s flyweight contest?

It is amazing. Everyone was really excited with the news. Although UFC haven’t confirmed it is going to be a division, I think it probably will and I think a lot of people are hoping for it.

It has caused a massive excitement around the fight so to be part of that is really cool. I was part of The Ultimate Fighter the first time they did an all-women’s season and the first time they came to Glasgow. And now there is the UFC flyweight bout.

I don’t go out my way to want these things but these things just happen and it is a great to be a part of it.

What will it mean for you to get back in the cage after almost a year out?

I was supposed to fight in December but I got injured. It was my first major injury and I had to pull out from the December bout. So obviously I had to comeback from that.

I went down a different journey and tried to find a new team to train with. I went out to Tristar (in Montreal)and that’s where I am training now and that will be who I will be fighting for.

A lot of things have happened this year and I am just looking forward to getting back out there because training every day is what I love doing. I also love the challenge at the end of it, which is the fight.

Has it made you a better fighter having to overcome some of these hurdles?

Yeah, definitely. I had to build a new team around me and I needed myself to get better outside of fighting as well as inside.

I plateaued for a while as a fighter and I just knew I had to take that leap up, especially at that level. I took that leap and definitely feel more confident and a better fighter.

Do you think of yourself as being a role model for young women?

It is crazy the amount of support I get on social media, the stories I hear and messages I get from people who I have inspired and people who have taken up the sport or are already in the sport.

They see that end goal. I really enjoy that I can put that across. And it is not just for girls. The gym I train at back home, it is mostly guys and I think it is good motivation for them.

When it comes down to it, the sex doesn’t really matter. It is just hard work and determination and, if you can pass that on to people, it spreads.

Who were your role models and inspirations growing up?

I see my sister as someone I looked up to. When we were growing up, I was frustrated and didn’t know what I was good at or what I wanted to do whereas she seemed to know what she was good at.

Not only that but she was really patient with me. I saw her as a strong role model, nothing ever got to her.

How much preparation do you put into each fight?

Usually I do a ten-week camp. Outside of that, you are doing normal training where everything is more relaxed but you are still learning and trying new stuff.

When you come into those ten weeks, your cardio has to go up and your sparring has to go up. You have to clean up your diet and make sure everything is on point. It changes each camp.

You are now training in Canada. Would you ever move there or will Scotland always be home?

I just started in January. Scotland is home for me but at the same time, I will do most of my training over at Tristar.

I will always enjoy coming back here and catching up with everyone and training with a lot of the people I used to train with. But for now, for my career, it is better for me to be in Canada.

Are there any Scottish treats you crave when you are away?

I’m a fan of potato scones. But over in Canada they have a great selection of good food. But the one thing I miss the most is my family and my mum especially because I am really close to them all.

The food stuff – you can wait for that.

When you were growing up, is this something you imagined yourself getting into?

I’ve done Thai boxing since I was at school. Obviously, it was just a hobby but I loved it and I just felt like it was something I was good at and something I enjoyed.

When I left school, I was just going into jobs to pay for being able to train. Things happen for a reason and, eventually, I have been able to make a career out of it.

When you are not training how do you like to relax?

A lot of time is spent training but outside of that, I like catching up with the family and I like to do a lot of other activities. Right now I am getting into golf.

My brother has been teaching me at the driving range so I just go through stages and phases.

Is that important for you not to get caught up in the fame?

I have just always wanted to be myself and not really make that much noise – just do my job and get on with it.

I don’t do this for the attention or the money, I just do it because I love it. It is just good that you can inspire people and they appreciate you for that.

What was it like being in The Ultimate Fighter reality series?

The whole Ultimate Fighter reality show was a massive opportunity and that was our way into the UFC.

It was surreal and there were all these different things going through your head for the reality side of things.

What was your last fight like when you got to be in front of a Glasgow crowd at UFC Fight Night 72 last July?

It was probably one of my best moments ever, being in that fight and having all that support. It was a great experience.

To be part of the first time the UFC ever came to Scotland and just to know all my family and friends were in the crowd, it was just a really amazing time in my life.


What will your walk on music be on June 18?

It used to always be the same, it used to be Kanye West Amazing, but I changed it up for Glasgow and I am probably going to change it up for Canada.

I am still deciding. Usually when you are deciding, you listen to a few songs and you know when you get a click, that that’s the one. I am still looking at options and waiting for that click.

How do you think you will fare against your opponent who is in front of a home crowd?

I am very confident. Everything has been going really well. And now I am with a new team, I am just dying to get back in.

With Valerie, I know she is going to be tough and I know it is going to be an exciting fight so although I am very confident, I am also really excited and looking forward to the challenge.