Scotland’s first professional female “cage fighter” hopes to blaze a trail for more women to get involved in the sport with a win in her first bout this week.
Joanne Calderwood has been involved in traditional martial arts for 12 years but on Saturday she will make her professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting debut at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall, the first professional all- female fight in Scotland.
Ms Calderwood, 26, who lives in Lanark, gave up her job as a nursing support worker to pursue her dream of reaching the top in martial arts.
She said: “People always say, ‘Oh you don’t look like a fighter’, but I just love it. If people question what I do, I ask them to come along to my next fight and I’m sure they enjoy it.”
She took up the sport almost by accident but has never looked back in ten years of competing.
She said: “When I was about 14 my brother’s friend ended up not going to a martial arts class with him, so my mum asked me if I wanted to go along and I ended up really enjoying it.
“I gave up swimming, which I did a lot at the time, to take up martial arts and I’ve just kept going since then.”
She specialised in Muay Thai fighting from age 16 and has won 18 of 20 professional fights in the discipline, collecting British and European titles along the way.
Her fearsome reputation in the Muay Thai world has meant potential opponents are scarce, so instead of waiting she has set her sights on reaching the top of the MMA world.
“I’ve been doing Muay Thai for about 12 years and I was looking for a new challenge.
“I’ve not been able to get a Thai fight for a while so this is another way of competing and I need to because this is my full-time job and I like to stay active.”
Some critics describe MMA as a violent and brutal sport.
MSP Sandra White criticised the staging of Joanne’s bout in her constituency and upset many at the Griphouse Gym in Glasgow with her comments on the sport.
Ms Calderwood responded: “Basically, she is not a sports fan and, obviously, she doesn’t know anything about MMA. She calls it ‘cage fighting’, which nobody involved really does anymore.
“But after her initial comments she came up to the gym and spoke to the coaches and I think she left realising that we’re not thugs and bad people, we are educated people and train very hard.
“My family don’t worry – out of 20 fights the worst injury I’ve had is a black eye.”
Ms Calderwood trains with male professionals at the Griphouse Gym near Glasgow city centre, and the gym manager, Guy Ramsay, said she holds her own with all the other fighters.
He said: “She is a terrific role model for any woman in sport, she is so disciplined.
“She looks after herself very well and does everything she can to be successful.”
The aim is to reach the top of MMA while still competing for Muay Thai titles, and Ms Calderwood hopes any success or profile she can achieve can encourage more women to get involved in the sport.
She said: “In terms of MMA, this is my first fist fight but hopefully it can continue and maybe I could get on some of the American promotions.
“The training camp for this fight has lasted eight weeks and we’ve been working on Muay Thai, wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well as my cardio and strength work.
There’s a lot of stuff to fit in and that’s why I gave my job up, I want to be the best.”
She will face Frenchwoman Noellie Molina at the On Top 4 event on Saturday.