Lauren Murphy and Joanne Calderwood will clash at UFC 263 in a fight that could determine the next No. 1 contender in the flyweight division, though both fighters are hesitant to make that declaration ahead of Saturday night.
With reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko decimating the competition ever since moving to 125 pounds, the list of potential opponents left to face the champ isn’t very long. Add to that, Murphy is currently on a four-fight winning streak, and with a fifth win in a row against Calderwood, she would be the highest-ranked fighter in the division who hasn’t had a shot at Shevchenko.
Despite those accolades, Murphy understands that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to title shots in the UFC, which is why she’s not pounding her fists just yet about deserving a chance to face Shevchenko next.
“I would love to say it’s a No. 1 contender fight,” Murphy said during the UFC 263 media day on Wednesday. “I would like to say that, but I also know in this sport anything could happen. I could win this fight but come out with such an injury that maybe I’m sitting on the shelf for nine months, or maybe I win this fight and Valentina gets injured. That’s what happened to ‘Jojo’ [Calderwood]. She was lined up for the title and the champion got injured. It was totally outside her control.
“It is hard for me to say, ‘Oh yes this is going to happen and when I do this and this is next’ – I learned years ago you can’t do that in MMA.”
It was just this past year when Shevchenko was forced to delay her return to action for a few months following surgery on her knee. Rather than sit and wait for the title shot she’d been given, Calderwood ended up taking a short-notice fight and suffered a loss to Jennifer Maia, who then went onto compete in the title fight instead.
Since then, Calderwood has bounced back with a win over former title contender Jessica Eye, and a victory against Murphy could put her right back at the top of the list for potential opponents to face Shevchenko.
“I’m ready for anything,” Calderwood said about the title picture at flyweight. “Not seeing past Lauren this Saturday. Obviously that’s my No. 1 goal and concern right now but yeah, this is why I’m here. I want to fight. I want to keep fighting and stay active and luckily enough we have a champion in our division that wants to stay active, she wants to fight all of us. That’s great for me.”
The flyweights are currently part of the preliminary card, which negates a possible opportunity to shine on pay-per-view alongside a stacked UFC 263 lineup that includes two title fights as well as a five-round bout between Leon Edwards and Nate Diaz.
Add to that, Murphy knows all too well that sometimes winning just isn’t enough when it comes to title opportunities in the UFC.
“I think it all depends on what happens Saturday night,” Murphy explained. “It depends on my performance. If Jojo and I have a fight where we just go out and look at each other, then no [title shot]. It has to be a good performance.”
In that regard, Calderwood definitely agrees. Because as much as rankings and records seem to matter, the public push and attention for certain fights often times trumps an impressive resume.
“Listen this is the entertainment business and we need to go in there and put on [a show],” Calderwood said. “Right now, we’re on the prelims, so I would say yeah, we have to go out there and put on a good show for the UFC and the fans and for ourselves.”
The good news is judging by their shared demeanors ahead of the fight, Murphy and Calderwood are ready to go out and put on the kind of performance that will grab the attention of the UFC and Shevchenko as well.
“The fight with Jojo’s going to be violent,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be high-paced. It’s going to encompass a lot of different aspects of the fight game. There’s going to be a lot of clinch work. There’s going to be some ground work. There’s going to be boxing, kickboxing,
“It’s not going to be a boring fight and it’s probably going to be pretty bloody. That’s what I think, one way or the other, somebody’s going to be bleeding. I think it’s going to be an outstanding fight.”
In turn, Calderwood expects much the same.
“We’re both pale skinned,” Calderwood said with a smile. “We’re just going to go in there and hit each other and we’re going to come out looking like lobsters. With blood or just our skin being pink.”