In a perfect world, Cynthia Calvillo would have been a lot more active over the past two years.
Unfortunately, the 32-year-old strawweight contender has only fought twice in the past 13 months, with her third bout scheduled tonight at UFC on ESPN 7. She faces Marina Rodriguez in the co-main event.
Calvillo, who missed weight for Saturday’s fight and was forced to give 30 percent of her purse to Rodriguez, initially was scheduled to return to action during the summer. But a broken foot knocked her out of a potential fight in her adopted hometown of Sacramento, Calif. That came after she faced a nine-month suspension after testing positive for marijuana following her fight against former UFC champion Carla Esparza.
Because she’s been so inactive over the past two years, Calvillo has seen her stock drop in the eyes of the UFC’s ranking committee, where she’s currently sitting at No. 10 in the division despite a 5-1 record in the promotion with her only loss a close decision against Esparza.
“Rankings, obviously, they don’t mean sh*t,” Calvillo said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “At the end of the day, I was so inactive in the last two years, although I do see it, I’m 8-1, and damn I’m No. 10. I see all these other girls that I started beforehand, and I don’t feel like I had a bad run. I lost a really close decision against a former world champ. It’s a tough one, but at the same time, it’s going to be my job. No worries on my part.
“I’ve seen it on both sides. I shot up to No. 6 real fast and then had to deal with the bullsh*t suspension, and I only fought once last year. This year’s twice because of my injuries. So because of inactivity, it’s pushed me to stay at No. 10.”
Originally, Calvillo was slated to face Claudia Gadelha this weekend, and while a win over a former title challenger would have gone a long way towards re-introducing herself to the rest of the strawweight division, she’s happy the UFC was still able to secure her Rodriguez as a replacement opponent.
“I’m really, really happy,” Calvillo said. “That was going to be one of the issues fighting in the Sacramento card. I don’t want to fight anyone ranked lower than me because I lost that close decision to Carla. I’m on a two-fight winning streak. I felt like I didn’t deserve to fight somebody ranked lower. I felt like I deserved to fight somebody ranked higher. So they couldn’t find me anyone for the Sacramento card.
“I ended up getting injured and then they got me Claudia, which was even better being that she’s ranked No. 6. She’s a very popular fighter. She’s had really close fights with one of the most dominant champions, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It meant a lot to me to be able to fight Claudia, but once they took her out because she wasn’t able to fight me, I was happy to get Marina Rodriguez, who happens to be ranked one above me.”
Calvillo knows she’s not the fighter everybody is talking about in the strawweight division right now, but she hopes to change that with her performance against Rodriguez. It wasn’t all that long ago that she was touted as the next big thing in the UFC, and she’s determined to prove that she’s more reality than hype.
“I’m here to remind people and the entire world on Dec. 7 why I belong on the top,” Calvillo said. “The reason why Dana White pushed me so fast because he saw something. It’s still there, there’s just a lot of things that were out of my control that were either bullsh*t or injuries or bullsh*t suspensions, but I feel like I’m proving myself.
“People just forgot because I’ve been inactive, but I’m here to remind them why I belong in the top, and I’m definitely going to be fighting for the title soon.”
The timing is also advantageous for Calvillo because there’s a lot of uncertainty at the top of the strawweight rankings right now.
While Weili Zhang has cemented herself as champion, she’s still awaiting her first title defense, which will likely come against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2020. Former champions Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade are out there as potential opponents for the future. Top-ranked fighters such as Tatiana Suarez and Nina Ansaroff are currently inactive while the former deals with a neck injury and the latter takes time off to have a child.
It leaves Calvillo in a good position if she wins against Rodriguez and then targets one of those available opponents.
“Everybody in the top 10 is either injured, or they’re going to be staying out for a while,” Calvillo said. “I feel like it’s a perfect time for me to really stand out and really show people why I belong and I hope I can get the right opportunities. I think it’s going to be a good fight to show where I stand, and hopefully next year I can get that title shot.”