The UFC returns to Washington, D.C, on December 7 with a Fight Night card headlined by Alistair Overeem vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruick. The event streams live on ESPN and will feature many exciting matchups during the night.
In the co-main event, two formidable strawweight contenders will face each other, as Cynthia Calvillo looks to ascend the rankings when she faces undefeated Brazilian Marina Rodriguez. Calvillo spoke with The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko in the lead-up to the event in Washington.
“She’s [Rodriguez] pretty fast, she’s pretty lanky – I already had my eyes on her, I knew who she was,” Calvillo said to John Hyon Ko.
“I was like okay, this is a girl that’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. I feel like the more you fight, you know what your capabilities are and you can bring more tools out of the toolbox to use. I feel like this one’s definitely going to be one of those fights.”
Leaving Team Alpha Male
For the past few years, Cynthia Calvillo (8-1) has been on the cusp of breaking into the upper echelon of the UFC’s strawweight division.
The American made her promotional debut in 2017 and in the space of four months amassed a perfect 3-0 record inside the octagon, with two victories coming via submission. After a dominant stint within the organization as well as a lopsided victory over the durable Joanne Calderwood, Calvillo was given her first real test before the years end in Carla Esparza – the first woman to claim the promotion’s strawweight crown.
The 32-year-old ultimately came up short, losing on all three of the judges scorecards. Despite the unfortunate result, she bounced back late the following year, submitting Poliana Botelho in the first round. A string of injuries prohibited the 115-pound fighter from having an active 2018 and 2019, and she quickly found herself slipping down the rankings.
Despite this, Calvillo was able to fight earlier in the year, defeating Cortney Casey by unanimous decision. Later on in the year, she was scheduled to face former title contender Claudia Gadelha, however, it was her opponent who withdrew from the contest due to an injury.
“She had something going on around her ankle,” Calvillo said. “I fractured my foot in June, and she kind of hurt hers in July. So I knew that we were both coming off injuries. I didn’t think she was going to pull out.”
Although she was never able to get inside the octagon with the top-ranked Gadelha, Cynthia Calvillo now has her sights set on December 7, where she will be competing against the undefeated Marina Rodriguez.
Defeating the Brazilian will be no easy task, nonetheless, the American believes that her grappling combined with improved striking will be the key to victory.
“I’m definitely really excited for the fight. I think it’s a great matchup for me. Obviously, my strongest points are my wrestling and my grappling; she’s a striker and she’s tall and lanky, but I also feel like I’ve been working extensively on my striking as well. I’m learning more and more every day, especially training with all kinds of training partners.”
Earlier in the year, Calvillo decided to switch things up and leave her longtime gym Team Alpha Male in favor of Thailand’s Tiger Muay Thai.
The 32-year-old never left Team Alpha Male on bad terms, and she explained why she felt like it was time for a change.
“I feel like my time there was definitely overdue. As far as from me, I’m not the one and only fighter that ended up leaving that team.
“It started off with Joseph Benavidez, Lance Palmer, TJ – things were just not the same. It’s a great place to train don’t get me wrong, and I’m not going to go and say any bad things, but were just too many changes for me to deal with.”
Path to the title and beating Weili Zhang
When Cynthia Calvillo decided to leave her longtime gym in Sacramento, California, the search for a new one opened up. With various high-level gyms across the country with never-ending supplies of elite training and sparring partners, the decision was not going to be easy.
The strawweight turned to her head coach Justin Buchholz – who also left Team Alpha Male – for guidance and advice when choosing which gym to call home. Buchholz suggested Thailand’s Tiger Muay Thai.
“My coach Justin Buchholz was the one that said ‘maybe you should go to Thailand,'” Calvillo said.
“I noticed being here at Tiger that there is a lot of people to train with, a lot of bodies and of course the Hickman brothers. They’re really great and they’re doing a really good thing out here with the rest of the coaches. It was a good structure and team for me to come and do my fight camp for this fight.”
Currently, all UFC strawweight fighters have one woman in their sights: Weili Zhang. The Chinese standout captured the championship in late August, knocking out Jessica Andrade in under a minute.
There has been debate over who should receive the next crack at the title, along with who would pose the biggest threat to Zhang’s reign. Calvillo believes that there is one title contender above the rest that offers the most danger stylistically.
“I would say Tatiana Suarez, just because of how good wrestling she has. I mean there’s a lot of holes in that, but if you’re going to go to somebody who’s got probably the best wrestling pedigree out of the whole strawweight division, it would be her.”
Although the last two years have not been the most productive for Calvillo, she plans to fight regularly in 2020 and hopes that a series of wins can result in a title shot.
“I do feel like since it’s been slow for me the last two years, I think that my time is going to come again to get that big wave ride it out, and that will hopefully take me to a title shot. I think it can happen, all I have to do is just keep grinding, working hard.”
“My job is to prove to the UFC that I do deserve a title shot. Weili got her title shot at number 6, so I’m hoping after I beat Marina Rodriguez in a devasting, fashionable way I will get their attention again and we can work something up because I’m more than happy to walk the walk and talk the talk to get the fight.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.