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Calderwood's UFC star shines bright, but you won't hear her shouting about it

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS: It wasn't so long ago that Herald Sport could simply pick up the phone and speak to Joanne Calderwood.

UFC fighter Joanne Calderwood meets her public in London
UFC fighter Joanne Calderwood meets her public in London

Even though she has been Scotland's hottest MMA property for the last few years, the 27-year-old was always available for a chat about her upcoming fights and, most recently, to discuss signing a deal with the UFC.

But with the ink on that deal now dried, Joanne's star has risen so high that an army of 'press people' manage her schedule and have to find time to slot us in for an interview.

It all feels a little strange.

"It does," she says, in her typical softly-spoken manner.

"I was looking through the interview schedule and it was nice to see your name on the list, someone I know."

Gracious as ever, Joanne assures us that we'll never have to jump through hoops to speak to her.

And with our insecurities put to rest, we get on with the show.

Joanne is in London this week on official UFC business, working as a pundit ahead of UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson v Manuwa.

The Kilmarnock woman - who trains at Glasgow's Griphouse gym, the home of the Dinky Ninja Fight Team, as well as at its satellite gyms in Dumbarton and West Lothian - is clearly being groomed as a future UFC star, even before she appears on the UFC's reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), later this year.

On Tuesday night, she appeared as a guest on BT Sport's show 'UFC: Beyond the Octagon' alongside former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin.

Griffin was the winner of the inaugural season of TUF and went on the win the title in the years that followed.

It's a path Joanne hopes to emulate, only her route could be much quicker.

If she reaches the final of the upcoming season of TUF, she will fight for the UFC's newly-created strawweight women's title.

"Forrest was really quick, really funny," she said.

"And he understood my accent, which was nice. He did say I had to turn up the volume a bit, but at least he understood my accent."

While she may indeed require to 'turn up the volume' occasionally, when Joanne talks, you listen.

She makes a lot of sense and has an incredible knowledge of the fight game. That comes not only from her training, but also from the fact that she's an avid fan of the sport.

She studies it and she absorbs the things she sees and the things she's taught.

And on Saturday, at London's 02 Arena, she will see Alexander Gustafsson take on Jimi Manuwa in a highly-anticipated main event.

She said: "I hope it's a stand-up fight, they both have really good stand-up skills.

"But I think if Alex keeps his discipline when it comes to keeping his distance, he will be okay."

Joanne admits finding it difficult to pick winners in fights.

"I don't want to upset anyone, and I like both fighters so I don't want to make big calls.

"I enjoyed being on BT Sport but I don't think being a pundit is a future career for me."

One fight on Saturday's card is of particular interest to Joanne and her Dinky Ninja team mates - Phil Harris v Louis Gaudinot.

Gaudinot defeated Griphouse coach Paul McVeigh in the early stages of a previous season of TUF, the start of a run that eventually led to McVeigh's decision to retire from the sport.

"We all thought Paul had won that fight against Gaudinot. It was so close.

"But there's no ill feeling at all, we want to see Gaudinot do well.

"And Paul has retired, but hopefully we can twist his arm to make a comeback some day. Although it's also great having him around the gym more often to coach the team."

As for her own stint on TUF, which begins filming in May, Joanne is being touted as one of the favourites to claim the 115lb strap.

She plans an eight-week training camp before jetting off to Las Vegas.

She said: "It will be different to a normal camp because I need to mix it up and prepare for any eventuality.

"I don't know who I will fight on the show so I have to work on all aspects of my game."

One potential clash is a meeting with Australian bigmouth Bec Rawlings, who Calderwood was due to fight on all-female MMA promotion Invicta FC, before Rawlings was handed a last-minute shot at the title.

Both are now UFC fighters and could square off in the TUF house.

Indeed, Rawlings has been trying to stir up animosity between the pair on Twitter, but Joanne is not taking the bait.

"You know me, it's not my style to get involved in anything like that.

"She can say what she wants but I won't get involved.

"Maybe that's what she needs to be the fighter that she is, but I've got to where I am by being myself so I'm not going to change now."

Amen to that.

She hasn't forgotten about The Herald and neither has she forgot her Dinky Ninja team mates who aren't quite at UFC level.

Martin Delaney was due to defend his lightweight title at On Top 7 last weekend, only for the event to be cancelled by host venue the Glasgow Hilton after discussions with the police.

"I was gutted for Martin, " Joanne said. "He'd been through the best fight camp of his life and his fight was one I was really looking forward to."

Joanne had her first pro fight on an On Top card and her rise to the UFC, by way of a perfect 8-0 record, has been meteoric.

As the first Scot to make it into the TUF house, she has already re-written history.

And whatever happens on the show, Joanne has a post-TUF four-fight contract with the UFC - meaning that at the very least her immediate fighting future will be with the world's biggest MMA promotion.

Should she reach the final and win the world title, Scottish MMA will never be the same again.

You'd be a fool to bet against her.

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