Preview: UFC Fight Night 173 ‘Brunson vs. Shahbazyan’ Main Card

Calderwood vs. Maia

By Tom Feely Jul 29, 2020

Women’s Flyweights

Joanne Calderwood (14-4) vs. Jennifer Maia (17-6-1)

ODDS: Calderwood (-190), Maia (+165)

Hopefully, this all works out for Calderwood, who steps in on late notice to essentially put her flyweight title shot on the line. It has been a long road for the affable Scotswoman to try and get her chance at UFC gold; she was seemingly in the catbird seat for a strawweight title shot coming off “The Ultimate Fighter” back in 2015, but some personal turmoil leading into her fight against Maryna Moroz saw her wind up losing in a shocking upset. That led to a few aimless years for Calderwood, and even her hometown win over Cortney Casey was nowhere near as strong as it should have been. Calderwood’s one good performance during that run was during a one-off flyweight bout against Valerie Letourneau, so when the UFC fully introduced the division a few years later, she figured to be a natural fit. Upon her move up to 125 pounds, Calderwood suddenly started showing a more effective grappling game, even if Kalindra Faria and Ariane Lipski were, in retrospect, tailor-made opponents for her to exploit. She dropped a close bout to Katlyn Chookagian in a subsequent outing, but her last victory over Andrea Lee saw all of the hard work finally click and pay off for Calderwood. She kept a strong pace on the feet, but the key to her victory was keeping the fight even in the clinch and wrestling department. In a past life, Calderwood easily would have been bulled around by a stronger athlete like Lee, but here, she was able to hold her own enough to keep “KGB” from making up ground. Despite the strong performance, it was still a surprise to see the UFC grant Calderwood the next shot at flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko; however, in a division that Shevchenko is poised to dominate going forward, Calderwood is about as good an option as any. With Shevchenko injured and out of action indefinitely, Calderwood has decided to stay active and as a late replacement, to boot. Viviane Araujo was scheduled for this spot until she was hit with the coronavirus about two weeks before the fight, which makes this surprisingly short notice for Calderwood to face a tough opponent like Maia.

Maia is the dark horse of the flyweight division, since she has not gotten much shine in the UFC relative to her ability. Coming in as an Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder, Maia was clearly one of the better women at 125 pounds upon her signing, but her unspectacular style has made the UFC loathe to feature her prominently; this marks her first main card fight. Maia is skilled and powerful, but she is also somewhat of a plodder. The Brazilian managed to get some ugly wins over Alexis Davis and Roxanne Modafferi, but those were also opponents who had little choice but to meet Maia head-on and lose the fight because of it. Her losses have raised some concerns about the needle that Maia has to thread to get over the hump as a title contender: Liz Carmouche had too much power and managed to beat Maia in a grind, while Chookagian had too much speed, forcing her to essentially keep walking into some powerful offense. Of course, the top tier of the UFC’s women's flyweight division is still somewhat of a mess that needs to keep sorting itself out, so there are few fighters who can obviously beat Maia in one phase or another. A win here against Calderwood would go a long way in proving that those two losses were just some singularly tough opponents.

Given the hard luck in Calderwood’s career thus far, it would be on brand for her to essentially give away her long-awaited title shot with a loss here, but she should be able to take this. She is not an elite-level athlete, but Calderwood should be able to hold her own in every aspect of the fight. She figures to be the quicker and more frequent striker, and while Maia may be able to suck her into a grind against the fence, Calderwood is just as capable of uncorking some effective offense as the Brazilian. That is basically the formula: Maia may have her moments, but for every hard shot that she lands, it seems like Calderwood should be able to respond with one or two more. The main concern is the late-notice nature of this spot for Calderwood, and any slippage in terms of pace or physical strength from her last few performances might be enough to hand Maia a win. Assuming Calderwood comes in close to her 2019 form, she is the pick by decision.

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