Like many of its closest European neighbors, Scotland has enjoyed a real golden age in MMA. It may not have a star like Michael Bisping or Conor McGregor to call its own yet, but it has a strong tradition in combat sports and a wave of fighters who have arrived in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and more than held their own. The procession has taken time, but the barrier to the big leagues has been broken.
Robert Whiteford in 2013 became the first Scottish fighter to reach the UFC, and a host of others have since followed in his footsteps. The UFC visited Scotland two years later, and it immediately earned a reputation as a hardcore-fan hotbed. The promotion returns with UFC Fight Night 113 this Sunday at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, for what promises to be a loud and eventful show.
Fans will have three established hometown heroes to support, as well as Octagon rookie Danny Henry. He faces Daniel Teymur on the undercard. Stakes will be high in what could be a coming-of-age event for the country.
Perhaps Scotland’s biggest MMA star will be featured in the co-headliner, as Joanne Calderwood takes on highly regarded American prospect Cynthia Calvillo in a pivotal battle at 115 pounds. Having entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship through “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, Calderwood seemed destined for stardom from the start. However, she has yet to fulfill those lofty expectations.
Calderwood defeated Seo Hee Ham in her UFC debut but then submitted to an armbar from Maryna Moroz in her sophomore appearance with the organization. She righted her ship with victories over Cortney Casey and Valerie Letourneau, but a guillotine choke submission loss to Jessica Andrade at UFC 203 in September left her in a precarious position. With the UFC set to launch a women’s flyweight division, Calderwood now finds herself in a potential crossroads bout.
Unfortunately for Calderwood, the UFC has given one of the most difficult tasks possible in the women’s strawweight class. Calvillo has compiled a 5-0 record that includes back-to-back submissions of Amanda Bobby Cooper and Pearl Gonzalez inside the Octagon. Operating out of Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, she trains alongside bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and newly minted UFC hall of famer Urijah Faber. Considering the nature of Calderwood’s losses to Moroz and Andrade, it stands to reason that she will be desperate to keep the fight standing.
Like Calderwood, Steven Ray finds himself at a potential crossroads, as he enters his battle with hard-hitting American Paul Felder with one fight remaining on his contract. A former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship and British Association of Mixed Martial Arts titleholder, he has exceeded all reasonable expectations during his two-year stint in the UFC. Ray has gone 5-1 with the organization, a run that includes consecutive victories over Ross Pearson and Joe Lauzon in his last two outings. He showed improvement in both fights, especially in his comeback win against Lauzon at UFC Fight Night 108 on April 22. With Bellator MMA showing increased interest in talent from the United Kingdom, Ray has decided to bet on himself and test the free agent waters. Against Felder, it seems like a risky proposition, though a victory would certainly strengthen his bargaining position.
Meanwhile, light heavyweight Paul Craig gets the chance to fight in his home country for the first time since he made his MMA debut there in August 2013. On the rebound following his first pro loss, Craig undoubtedly wants to return to his winning ways against Khalil Rountree on the main card. The Scotsman opened plenty of eyes in late 2015, when he submitted highly regarded Irish prospect Karl Moore with a guillotine choke and then went on to capture the BAMMA light heavyweight title. Craig later signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and raised his profile further by tapping Luis Henrique da Silva with an armbar at UFC on Fox 22 in December. While a devastating loss to the unbeaten Tyson Pedro at UFC 209 slowed his rise, he can move back into the conversation at 205 pounds with a win over Rountree.
All in all, it looks like a big night for the Tartan Army, inside and outside the cage. No one can predict how it will turn out for Calderwood, Ray, Craig and Henry, but the event -- as is always the case in Scotland -- promises to be full of emotion, pride and support.