Calderwood on opponent Chookagian: “She isn’t the kind of fighter I enjoy watching!”

UFC 238: Cejudo v Moraes takes place from the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on Saturday 8th June 2019 for one of the most stacked shows of the year so far. Out of the 24 fighters competing on the card, 21 of them are ranked in the top 15 of their respective divisions which demonstrates the high level of martial arts that will be on display come fight night. Opening up the card is a women’s flyweight bout that sees Scottish favourite, Joanne Calderwood, take on Katlyn Chookagian. ‘JoJo’ has made it clear that if she emerges victorious, she wants to face the winner of the evening’s co-main event when Valentina Shevchenko looks to defend her belt against Jessica Eye.

Calderwood (13-3) last competed in January when she earned a unanimous decision victory over UFC debutant, Ariane Lipski, which added to her 4-0 unbeaten run in the flyweight division. Although she is mostly known for her slick striking, it was Calderwood’s improved grappling game that was on display during the first round. Following a Lipski flurry, ‘JoJo’ secured an early takedown and hunted for a rear naked choke from the back. She continued to control position and worked to try and secure a triangle choke and an armbar before the first frame was over.

During the second round, more of the fight played out on the feet as both women landed some good strikes. Calderwood utilised her kicks well to maintain range and keep Lipski on the end of her punches before showing off her grappling from the bottom during the final stanza. Despite being thrown by Lipski, who found herself in side control straight away, Calderwood worked back to closed guard where she controlled her opponents posture and looked to attack with submissions of her own from beneath the Brazilian fighter. Calderwood was really pleased that she was able to show everyone how much her grappling game has come on but didn’t go into the fight with that being her sole focus.

“I really enjoy all aspects of martial arts and by working with John Wood at Syndicate, I feel like my all round game has improved,” said Calderwood. “My jiu-jitsu has always been good but up until recently, I struggled with putting it all together so that it worked well for MMA. I knew I wanted to beat Lipski in all areas so it was my plan to go in there and prove that I’m still evolving as a fighter. The camp for that fight wasn’t great so I learned that I can compete and still perform when preparations aren’t ideal. I was sick a few times in the weeks leading up to the fight and also broke my toe. On top of those factors, I also felt quite a bit of pressure going into the bout but I was able to overcome everything to get the win.”

Ariane Lipski went into that fight with a lot of hype as she had dominated all of her opponents to reign supreme atop of the KSW flyweight division and many suggested that she would be able to hold her own against the UFC’s finest. She was on a nine fight winning streak going into that fight and had finished seven of those victories inside the distance which showed that she could capitalise on the smallest of openings to claim victory. Calderwood was aware of the expectations people had of Lipski ahead of their clash but always considered her rather one dimensional.

“Lipski did exactly what we thought she was going to do,” explained Calderwood. “She had a lot of hype behind her but I didn’t buy into it so I was confident that I would get the win. Being a good striker will only get you so far so she will come up against the same problems I faced earlier in my career. You need to have other tools at the highest level.”

Since arriving in the UFC around four and a half years ago, Calderwood has trained at many different gyms around the world searching for the perfect environment to round out her skills. She began her career in the world’s largest MMA organisation while training out of a gym in her native Scotland before moving to Tristar in Canada where she trained for a number of her UFC fights. However, she admitted that despite trying her very best to make a home there, Tristar was never really the place for her and in hindsight she should have left earlier before she did.

Calderwood, who was battling with depression around that time, then made a trip out to Vegas where she began training at Syndicate MMA. Rather than committing to the gym straight away as she had done at Tristar, ‘JoJo’ ensured that it was the right place for her before making that life-changing leap. She loved the environment and was pleased that she had female training partners, including Roxanne Modafferi, for the first time in her career. Even though she has faced lots of challenges with her training situation over the years, Calderwood believes that these experiences have made her who she is today.

“I don’t like saying I regret going to Canada first because I learnt a lot about myself in those times,” discussed Calderwood. “I hit rock bottom and I don’t know if I would have found my way to where I am now if I hadn’t moved there. I get a lot of strength knowing what I’ve overcome and how far I’ve bounced back after being that low.”

Her opponent on Saturday night is American, Katlyn Chookagian (11-2), who is coming off of a split decision loss to upcoming title challenger, Jessica Eye. Up until that point, she had defeated Mara Romero Borella and Alexis Davis since returning to flyweight and is she one of the larger fighters in the division. Out of her 13 professional fights, Chookagain has seen the judges scorecards 10 times and hasn’t scored a finish in the UFC so more often that not, her fights go the full 15 minutes. Calderwood respects the challenge that she is about to face on Saturday night but isn’t convinced that it will be one of the more exciting bouts in her career.

“I think her record is legit but she’s more of a points scorer and doesn’t engage very much,” stated Calderwood. “She isn’t the kind of fighter I enjoy watching but she is my next opponent. I am looking forward to having the challenge of facing a style like hers.”

Chookagian has never been finished in her professional career so earning the stoppage victory would make a real statement by Calderwood and really cement her claim to be the next in line for a shot at the title. The 32 year old believes that Valentina Shevchenko will successfully defend her flyweight belt against Jessica Eye later on in the night at UFC 238 and she is ultimately the person who she wants to face for the title. Calderwood believes that due to Shevchenko having such a good reputation, it would mean a lot more to be the one to take the title from her down the line. However, she also admits that while the champion has looked good at flyweight, she isn’t as unstoppable as others have made out if you look at who she has faced in the weight class.

“I don’t really view her first UFC flyweight performance against Priscila Cachoeira as being unstoppable and in the resulting title fight, Joanna is a strawweight ” said Calderwood. “I feel she could have stopped her actually. I see holes in Valentina’s game as nobody is perfect but I’ll leave that up to my coach to exploit and put in a game plan around how I’d approach that fight.”

Since her UFC debut in 2014, it seems as though Calderwood is in the best place physically and mentally that she has been so far, which is showing in her performances. With another dominant display on Saturday night, she could find herself in the number one contender position and be faced with the challenge of competing against the woman who many see as being capable of ruling the weight class for years to come. After all of the challenges she has overcome in her life so far, who would bet against her potentially rising to the occasion once again?

The UFC 238 early prelims can be streamed live on UFC Fight Pass at 11:15pm BST on Saturday night.

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