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Joanne Calderwood says she’s changed her body — and her mind — and she’s ready to finally show her UFC potential

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Joanne Calderwood Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Joanne Calderwood nixed the carbohydrates out of her diet about three weeks ago, in preparation for her weight cut ahead of UFC Lincoln.

A couple of days later, the UFC women’s flyweight fighter was getting her physical attributes tested at the UFC Performance Institute — in something called a “shark tank” — and the staff there immediately told her to go back to what she was eating previously.

“They could easily tell me that I needed to add my carbs back in, because I couldn’t reach my peak,” Calderwood told MMA Fighting in a recent sit-down at the UFC PI. “My heart couldn’t get to that part in the red. I can usually get to the red, but I couldn’t get to the red then. They were like, ‘It’s because you haven’t fueled your body to get to there.’”

That sequence of events was just the latest example of the validation Calderwood has felt over the last few months. The Scotland native moved to Las Vegas in March, initially just so she can take advantage of the UFC Performance Institute and all the technology in strength and conditioning and nutrition that comes with it.

Before, Calderwood would do strength training and nutrition on her own. Or she’d hire people here and there, trainers and gurus who would give her a program that wasn’t necessarily suited for her. And it was costly. In Las Vegas, she has the state-of-the-art UFC Performance Institute, which has all of those things available and customizable — and it’s free for UFC fighters.

Earlier in the year, Calderwood was having a dialogue with Clint Wattenberg, the UFC PI’s director of sports nutrition, about her diet and food intake. After thinking it over, she thought to herself, why not just go all in and move to where those facilities are?

“I wasn’t training as a professional athlete,” Calderwood said. “I wasn’t living my life as a professional athlete. Now, it’s just motivated me and I have the tools, I have the education, the mindset to carry on. I’m still doing MMA, I’m still turning up for the training. But it’s the things that are outside the gym that I wasn’t getting a grip of. Coming here, speaking to all these professionals and just working together with them, it’s just led me on the right track to be an all-year-round professional athlete.”

Calderwood, 31, meets Kalindra Faria at UFC Lincoln on Saturday night in Nebraska after more than a year away from the Octagon. She’s lost two in a row, both in the strawweight division that she said for years she had major difficulties making. Now, at 125 pounds with her preparation at the UFC Performance Institute and Syndicate MMA under coach John Wood, Calderwood believes she is finally on the right track to fulfill the expectations people had on her going back to when she was a red-hot prospect with Invicta FC in 2013.

“I’m really excited, because I feel like when I watch back my fights, I’m so exciting, I’m so dangerous,” Calderwood said. “Just to put everything in the right direction, I’m just gonna be more confident and more happy in there. And just know that everything has turned out to be the way it’s supposed to be. The one thing I’m excited about is I’ll actually be able to show my potential.”

Calderwood (11-3) did not get to this happy stage easily. She sprained her ankle before her loss to Cynthia Calvillo at UFC Glasgow in July 2017 and missed weight by two pounds. After that bout, Calderwood left Tristar Gym in Montreal and was at a career crossroads. She said she thought about hanging up the gloves.

“It did get to that point and that’s when I knew I had to take a step back,” Calderwood said. “I was like ready to give up. When that happened, I was like, ‘I’m out.’ It was like last year when I got injured. I was just like, I’ve had enough.”

Calderwood felt like she already moved “halfway across the world” from Scotland to Montreal, so she had to make it work there. But it didn’t. One of the big issues, she said, was a lack of female training partners at Tristar. Calderwood said when she got to Vegas, it was a priority to find women she could spar with. She has certainly found that at Syndicate, which boasts UFC fighters Roxanne Modafferi and Jessica-Rose Clark, among others.

“I really felt like for confidence-wise, it really made a big difference,” Calderwood said of training solely with men. “I feel like I was always getting my ass handed to me. I was always defending, I was just not getting anywhere. I’m not saying I’m going through all the girls at Syndicate, but it’s a different thing now. … It’s basically like a fight — she gets something and I get something. We work well together and we work off of each other. I can see, ‘OK, that’s not working.’ It’s not because of strength, it’s not because she’s a guy. That would have been my excuse at Tristar. I’ll not get it, but maybe I’ll get it on a girl.”

Calderwood expects to call Las Vegas her home for the foreseeable future, perhaps until the end of her career. She said she’s walking around 15 to 20 pounds lighter now than she did in previous training camps. Calderwood said her body has changed and her training partners have noticed how her strength has increased being at the PI.

Best of all, Calderwood doesn’t have to worry about that brutal weight cut to 115 pounds anymore.

“I feel like that’s why my career and my mental side of things took a major dent,” she said. “If you take food out of anyone’s life, you’re depressed. Look around you, everyone is eating, everyone is happy. That’s when you’re at your most happiest. And I love food. I feel like, especially for those six weeks, I would just feel miserable. You need carbs, you need food, you need everything to function properly.

“So I was like dragging my ass to training and that’s not the way it should be. I’ve already ran for [the weight cut], I don’t really want to do another hour and half of technique. It’s just so much better being able to make the cut not as bad as what I was doing for strawweight.”

Everything is in place now. A new country, a new gym, a new weight class. Calderwood is primed for a run in the UFC women’s flyweight division and she can’t wait to show off “JoJo 2.0” in Lincoln.

“Throughout my career, it’s been like up, down, up, down — and mostly down,” Calderwood said. “But now I feel like I understand, it’s the universe. This was all supposed to happen. I was supposed to come here and now I feel happy, I feel like I’ve got everything that I want.”