Tuesday 21 November 2017

Scottish fighters hoping to recreate the Irish MMA experience at home

Joanne Calderwood
Joanne Calderwood
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

This weekend at UFC Krakow / UFC Fight Night 64 sees Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood and Steven Ray looking to take a step further in the UFC. Both fighters are firmly focused on their Saturday night fights. But, in the back of their minds they’ll be hoping two wins will give them momentum towards the UFC’s debut event in Scotland in July.

Joanne Calderwood has been a standout on the Women’s MMA scene for a number of years. With an undefeated record of 9-0 she also has European and World Muay Thai championships to her credit.

When the UFC announced they’d be creating a female straw-weight division Calderwood joined Dublin’s Aisling Daly in The Ultimate Fighter series 20 TV reality show to crown an inaugural champion. Though the Scottish fighter came up short in the semi-finals, being ranked #2 going into TUF 20 and her body of work in MMA should have meant a title shot was looming.

Apparently not.

Despite the TUF 20 process bringing together supposedly the best 16 female straw-weights in the world, Joanne has found it hard to get matched for fights. Her first opponent, like her opponent this weekend, have been brought in from outside the UFC.

So, why has it been so difficult to match her? Apparently, the UFC match maker Sean Shelby has said the reason is there are very few people with as good a record hers. Is this code for people turning down a fight with Joanne?

If she’s that good, then why not a title shot?

Check out this highlight reel of Joanne:

Having not fought since December last year, Joanne will now fight this weekend and potentially again at UFC Glasgow in July.

Though it’s been frustrating for the Scottish warrioress, she has remained pretty balanced about everything –“It was a little frustrating when I found out about the TUF and that others got signed after I was signed. I did not want to do a TV reality show. I would have preferred just to be signed there and then. But everything happens for a reason, I can’t concentrate on that, I agreed to it, so I’m just going to get on with it.”

Ironically, after crowning a champion from TUF 20 the first challenger was Poland’s Joanna Jędrzejczyk, who also was signed without having to do the reality show.

Was Calderwood surprised that Jędrzejczyk beat the champion Carla Esparza so easily? - “No. Joanna did great. She’s now a proper champion. You shouldn’t be a champion if you’ve only one tool and she showed that Carla had only one tool (wrestling) and I don’t want to see that in my division.”

With her mind firmly set on Saturday’s task there is a bigger fish to fry after Saturday.

The UFC will make its long awaited debut in Glasgow on the 18th of July and Joanne is hoping what happened in Dublin in July 2014 can be repeated in Scotland in 2015.

Prior to UFC Dublin last year the sport of Mixed Martial Arts was still firmly under the mainstream media radar in Ireland. Though attention was growing it wasn’t until the fan engagement with the UFC event and the five wins from five Irish fighters that the support for the sport here really hit home.

Calderwood is hoping UFC Glasgow will have a similar effect for herself and the sport of MMA in her home country.

“It’s gonna be really special. I get really excited when I think about it because its three years since I fought in Glasgow and the atmosphere was amazing back then so it’s gonna be 10 times that in July. It's gonna be great for Scottish MMA. It will give an amazing boost to the MMA community in Scotland. I can only hope that July will push MMA mainstream and make it better for the sport in Scotland.”

Fellow countryman Steven Ray makes his UFC debut this weekend. Due to an injury he’s taking this fight on only 15 days’ notice but doesn’t think it will be a problem.

“I’d been helping out my team mates who were in their fight camps. I was obviously heavier than I would normally be two weeks out but it came off easier because I was heavier so I’m on track now” explained Ray.

Despite the short preparation, the former Cage Warriors lightweight champion feels his opponent is in a similar situation – “He’s the same; he’s only had 15 days to think about me. I’m a southpaw so he’ll have had to switch things up in his training. I feel we both have some dilemmas to deal with. I believe I’m better than him striking and wrestling. He’s a BJJ brown belt but I’m no slouch on the ground. I believe I have the tools to submit him. I don’t doubt myself or think I can only win on the feet. I believe I can beat guys anywhere and get the win any way possible”

Ray is also looking forward to taking part in the UFC event in his backyard.

“The event would definitely help Scottish MMA and get a lot of new fans hooked on the sport like what happened in Ireland. There’d be lots of new fans and lots of guys wanting to start training. It’d be great for Scotland in general and for Scottish MMA.”

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