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I'll strike out for fans; UFC star Joanne Calderwood promises Scots supporters a fight to remember as she returns to home country to take on Cynthia Calvillo.

Byline: MICKEY McMONAGLE

Scots Ultimate Fighting Championship star Joanne Calderwood is thrilled to be back in the Octagon in her home country when the Mixed Martial Arts juggernaut rolls into the SSE Hydro next Sunday.

Tipped as a future UFC superstar, Jojo is the co-main event as she takes on Cynthia Calvillo in front of a capacity crowd.

She was on the bill two years ago when UFC hit Glasgow for the first time and the memories are clearly still special.

From her training camp in Canada, she said: "I'm really looking forward to being back in Scotland. I've still got the excited feeling that I had two years ago when I first fought for the UFC in Glasgow.

"I thought I would never experience the same feeling again but I didn't know the UFC was coming back to Scotland.

"Two years later, it will be even better and I can't wait to walk out in front of my home fans. Being co-main event doesn't add any extra pressure. It's a nice feeling to know that I'm co-main in my home country.

"Either way, I'm just happy to be part of the fight card. I still have to work as hard as I would, regardless of where I am on the card."

Jojo is in the middle of a relentless training programme as she builds up to her biggest fight. The battler, famed for her striking, is doing all she can to ensure victory.

She said: "Stevie Ray trained here in the past and only had good things to say about the facilities and the level of training, so that helped convince me that it was the right decision to come here.

"I wanted to work with the top coaches here. It helped that I've always wanted to travel to Canada so that was probably the second reason why I wanted to come here.

"It's very tough being away from home.

I'm very close to my mum and brother and sisters so it's hard being away from them. But I knew it was something I would have to do if I wanted to become a better fighter.

"As it gets nearer, my regime involves a lot more sparring and conditioning. I'm not working so much on the technical side of things, it's more trying to improve my fitness and making sure I feel sharp.

"It will slow down now. Fight week is about staying focused and keeping things fresh in your mind. As you get closer to fight week, then fight night itself, it's about making sure your game plan is fresh in your head."

Jojo is focusing on her strengths rather than planning surprises, so we can expect a battling performance full of aggression and power. She said: " I'm always trying to work on my striking. I want to keep my striking as sharp as possible because that's my weapon when I'm in the Octagon.

"I just need to go in there and do what I need to do. I'm not worrying about Cynthia.

"I've been in trouble before in fights and I always bite down on my gum shield. I don't think she has that quality so I know I can give her a tough night."

She's been touted as a title contender, but Jojo believes she's not ready for that yet.

She said: "It's up to the UFC but I want to get another few wins under my belt first. I'm just focusing on this fight.

"It's best to take it one fight at a time.

First and foremost, I need to get a win here, then maybe another couple and then see where I am."

UFC is one of the biggest sporting phenomena in the world, so it's a huge achievement to even be part of it. For Jojo, the sky is the limit. Although she found it hard to make her way into the sport of MMA and the UFC organisation, it was worth all the work.

She said: "It's a great time to be part of UFC. I've only been involved for a couple of years but it's changed so much. It will only continue to grow and get even bigger. It's an exciting time for the next generation of MMA fighters. I do believe it's just the start.

"It was very hard for me at the start of my career. I went a full year without being able to get an MMA fight, but that was because of my striking background.

"I'm sure if people come through with strong MMA backgrounds, it will be easier for them to get opportunities to fight, but my background made it a bit tougher."

Being female worked against her too initially, but she hopes her success will inspire other Scots girls.

Jojo said: "At the time, I was also the only female around. It is tough and frustrating at times, but as the sport grows, the competition among the fighters grows as well. I'm sure as time goes on, there will more opportunities and it will be easier for people to get involved.

"I've always looked to inspire people around me so they can be themselves. I haven't thought too much about being the one who paves the way for people to get into the sport. I guess that's just a bonus. I would be doing this anyway so if I can help inspire others, that's great."

When it comes to fight night, Jojo is all about staying calm behind the scenes - a surprise for the bundle of energy we have seen in the Octagon.

She said: "First and foremost, I try to stay calm and be around people that make me feel calm. I make sure I go over my game plan in my head.

"The main thing is to be in a positive place and enjoy it. I would be lying if I said there wasn't any pressure. There are a lot of nerves but you just have to believe in yourself and go into the Octagon and do what you know you are capable of.

"I'm focused but at the same time I'm trying to enjoy the moment. I remember the last time I had a massive smile on my face. You can't beat that feeling of having all that support behind you."

Although her mind will be on her fight, Jojo is urging fans to check out a couple of other bouts.

She said: "Watch Gunnar Nelson. He is the main event and is such a great fighter, very technical and calm at the same time.

"Also, Stevie Ray, one of my team-mates, he brings it every time, plus he is Scottish and we love to fight."

Which brings us nicely to the global success story that is Conor McGregor, who loves to fight more than just about anyone.

The biggest talking point in sport is the battle between McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, bringing together boxing and UFC for the first time ever. Jojo sees the fight as being beneficial to both sports.

She said: "It's a good thing for the two sports and for the fans especially.

"The fight has been talked about for a while and they want to see it. I'm pleased it's happening for the fans because they get to see what they want. McGregor and Mayweather are getting what they want, so everyone is happy.

"I would have to go with Mayweather to win the fight. He has that experience in a boxing ring."

Jojo is open to the idea of fighting within a different sport too.

She said: "It's interesting. Obviously there are a number of disciplines that make up MMA so I don't think the McGregor fight will just be a one-off.

"I fought in Muay Thai before MMA and would like to fight in that discipline again. If I could fight Muay Thai in between UFC fights, it would be a great way to stay active."

She's a big McGregor fan and as a friend of the Irish icon, she knows his image isn't manufactured - it's the genuine article.

Jojo said: "Conor has done wonders for the sport. I knew him before the UFC and I know that's just his character. He was always destined to make it to the top so it's great to see him fighting at the top of the world stage."

n Watch Jojo in action at UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Ponzinibbio on Sunday July 16, live on BT Sport.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 9, 2017
Words:1410
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