Joanne Calderwood is aiming to do more damage in the flyweight division.
Calderwood (13-3) went 1-3 at strawweight before permanently moving up to the 125-pound division last year. The move paid off, as the Scotland-born standout has earned three straight victories at flyweight and is set to face Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 238.
"Jo-Jo" made major changes in her preparation, training exclusively at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas. She's looking to display her newfound confidence against Chookagian and plans to exploit her opponent’s weakness on June 8.
"She’s tough but I just feel like I’m on the one to go in there and expose her game," Calderwood told theScore. "She’s more of a counter-fighter and point-scorer, so I just feel like my aggression and game plan that I’m going to go in there and stop her or make her look not as well as she’s done in the past. Just go in there and perform and hopefully get the stoppage. If not, I want to make sure it’s a dominant decision win."
Chookagian (11-2) nearly secured a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko before ending up on the wrong end of a split decision to Jessica Eye at UFC 231 in December. The loss snapped the Mark Henry-trained flyweight’s three-fight winning streak. It may not be a coincidence that this matchup was placed on the same card as the co-main event, which features Shevchenko defending her flyweight title against Eye. Calderwood says she’s prepared to step in should something unfortunate happen leading up to that championship bout.
"I feel like I’m on that card just in case someone else falls off the (co-main event), or if anyone doesn’t make weight," she said. "I’m seeing it as if an opportunity comes up, I’ll jump in there with my two feet. Obviously, I’m concentrating on the fight ahead, but yeah, we have that in the back of our minds."
A betting underdog in her last fight, Calderwood put on arguably her most complete performance in the Octagon, defeating Brazilian prospect Ariane Lipski by decision at UFC Brooklyn in January. Perhaps the most impressive takeaway from the victory was how much she had to overcome leading up to the matchup.
"There were a lot of things that went on in that camp," Calderwood said. "I was sick like three times and broke my toe. There was a lot of pressure on me going into that. The UFC tried to hype her and everyone was buying into the hype, I nearly bought into myself. But luckily I performed when I was in there and got the win and (did) it dominantly."
While Calderwood has her sights set on the flyweight championship, the strawweight title changed hands at UFC 237 earlier in May. Jessica Andrade knocked out former champion Rose Namajunas with a brutal slam in the second round. Calderwood fought both competitors and had mixed emotions about the result.
"It was sad to see because Rose was an awesome champion. So it was quite sad to see her losing that," Calderwood said. "Obviously, I want to see Jessica Andrade succeed and stuff. Even when we fought, she was a badass and she’s working hard. It was a crazy event because Rose dominated the first round and kind of slowed down in the second round. It was shitty how it ended because it could have been a serious injury. So I have mixed feelings on that fight."
The setback prompted "Thug Rose" to hint at retirement at just 26 years old. Calderwood hopes it won't come to that but understands that if her head isn’t in the right space, it could be for the best.
"I understand a lot of emotional things that she goes through," she added. "All of us fighters are messed up. Your mentality is a big thing in this game. I can remember in the Invicta days and she was very emotional and nervous. I can’t imagine how she felt being in the UFC and as a champion. Do I think she’s going to retire? I could see that happening. I wouldn’t like her to retire because she has so much potential and talent."
Calderwood added: "She’s got her life together. ... If your mind isn’t one-hundred percent in this game, that’s when you get in trouble. That’s when things go downhill. If she has feelings like that, I hope she does call it a day. She’s a legend to me."
UFC 238 takes place June 8 at the United Center in Chicago. The vacant bantamweight title is on the line in the main event as flyweight champion Henry Cejudo faces Marlon Moraes.
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