Kilmarnock’s Joanne Calderwood is no stranger to blazing trails.
In 2012, the 32-year-old became Scotland’s first professional female MMA fighter and this Saturday she will enter the history books once more as one of the first females to fight in Abu Dhabi, when the United Arab Emirates hosts it’s first all female bouts during UFC 242.
The event is tipped to bring in huge crowds to the purpose-built venue, The Arena, on Yas Island, which holds upwards of 13,000 spectators.
The mixed martial artist admits: “I’m excited; I’m a little bit nervous but I’m just grateful to be part of this whole experience.”
Ranked as the No 5 flyweight UFC fighter is set to take on American Andrea Lee, who is sixth in the rankings.
With both fighters known for their stand-up game, Calderwood says the pair will put on a good show for fans, as she reveals she’s looking forward to the bout with Lee.
She said: “She’s an exciting fighter and she always comes to put on a good fight, I think it’s going to be a good match.”
“Our fighting styles are similar, I believe that always makes great fights for the fans to watch, I’m excited for it.
“I see myself as a creative striker so I’m always looking for elbows and knees and kicks, but I guess you’ll have to tune in to see what creative moves I come up with on the night.”
The MMA star has spent the week soaking up the atmosphere at Abu Dhabi’s Showdown Week with coach and boyfriend John Wood.
But despite 40-degree plus temperatures she says the tropical climate is not a concern as she jokes: “It’s a bit humid out here in Abu Dhabi but I’m always grateful for the heat after growing up in Scotland.”
And the weather isn’t the only thing she’s relaxed about, after switching from strawweight to flyweight, Calderwood claims her weight is in a much better place.
“This is my fourth camp under the UFC Performance Institute program of nutrition, I feel like with each camp I’m doing better and my weight’s lower and lower,” she said.
“Now that I don’t have to worry so much about the making weight part I can relax a bit and enjoy the build up a bit more.”
While she found the weight cut to 115 pounds tough on her body, she isn’t ruling out a return to strawweight if the opportunity comes up.
“Part of my ego thinks maybe I could visit strawweight again,” she said. “But I’m really happy at this weight, so we’re just taking each fight as it comes, but I wouldn’t say never.”
Saturday night will see Jojo step in to the octagon for the third time this year, a solid work schedule, but one she confirms suits her.
“I feel like the ball’s rolling and I’ve got a good momentum behind me now,” she insists.
“I started my career off as a very active as a fighter, I wanted to fight every moth and that’s when I felt most comfortable, so it feels great to be able to fight this often.”
Reflecting on her early June bout against Katlyn Chookagian in Chicago, which saw Joanne loose marginally on points, she says she’s learned and moved on from the fight.
“I was frustrated for a week or so but you can’t dwell on the past,” she added. “I didn’t have to be too hard on myself because the result was so close.”
The loss was seen by some as a bump in the road for a shot at a title fight with weight division champion Valentina Shevchenko, but for Joanne it’s a minor setback: “Every fighter in the UFC is gunning for gold, and I feel that maybe that pressure took a bit of my focus off my last fight.”
With either Lee or Calderwood tipped to be next in line for a shot at the flyweight belt, Jojo is determined not to let the hype distract her from her task ahead.
“You have to deal with the now and the fighter you have in front of you, and the rest will come,” she said.
“MMA is such a hard sport, you can make a tiny mistake and lose your fight so I’ve learned not to read too much into what’s next.
“You just have to concentrate on the fight and get back into that win column and all that other stuff will follow at the right time.”
On asking how she intends to celebrate after her fight on Saturday night, Jojo confesses she feels her party days are over, but that she’ll party in a different way.
“There’s no Chick-fil-A over here so I’ll just have to look for some pizza or some other junk food to celebrate with and then I’ll watch the rest of the show,” she revealed.
The former St Joseph’s Academy pupil grew up in Crosshouse and began learning Muay Thai in Kilmarnock with instructor Kevin Dunnett before moving to Wossobama in Ayr and, finally, finding her home at the Griphouse in Glasgow.
She says her recent hectic work life has hindered her getting back to Scotland as much as she would have liked.
Joanne commented: “It’s always good to get back to home to visit my family, I love them all to bits and my old team as well. I like to get back and see them all and catch up with everybody as often as I can.”
Joanne now fights out of Syndicate MMA after making the move to Las Vegas last year.
Working with coach John Wood, her partner in and out of the octagon, she seems to be filled with a new sense of contentment after battling her share of demons in the past.
She said: “I’m very happy right now, I feel like I’m at my prime, I feel like everything’s come together and I’ve found my feet a little bit.”
Often underestimated as ‘The softly spoken Scot’ some people she meets still don’t believe she fights for a living.
She said: “I get it all the time, even here this week, people have been asking my coach and boyfriend, ‘Are you nervous for your fight?,’ or ‘How much weight have you got to cut?,’ and he’s had to point out it’s actually me that’s the fighter.
“I just tell them to Google my name or look me up on YouTube.”
You can watch Joanne ‘Jojo’ Calderwood in action on Saturday live at UFC 242 around 5pm on BT Sport, with coverage starting around 2pm UK time.
Full card listings
Main – Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Dustin Poirier (lightweight)
Edson Barboza vs Paul Felder (lightweight)
Islam Makhachev vs Davi Ramos (lighweight)
Curtis Blaydes vs Shamil Abdurakhimov (heavyweight)
Mairbek Taisumov vs Carlos Diego Ferreira (lightweight)
Prelims – Joanne Calderwood vs Andrea Lee (women’s flyweight)
Zubaira Tukhugoc vs Lerone Murphy (featherweight)
Liana Jojua vs Sarah Moras (women’s bantamweight)
Ottman Azaitar vs Teemu Packalen (lightweight)
Early prelims – Belal Muhammad vs Takashi Sato (welterweight)
Nordine Taleb vs Muslim Salikhov (welterweight)
Omari Akhmedov vs Zak Cummings (middleweight)
Don Madge vs Fares Ziam (lightweight)