When Joanne Calderwood made her way to the octagon to face Maryna Moroz in Krakow on Saturday night, she looked anything but confident. Her eyes were hidden underneath a Bad Boy baseball cap, like she wasn’t ready for the world to see her. Such was the look of concern on her face, the Scottish flag she carried over one shoulder could just as easily have been the weight of the world.
These little details say plenty in hindsight. To the untrained eye, body language is easy to read after the fact. On the night of, their significance was easy to overlook. After all, we all knew “Jo Jo” was under pressure.
Calderwood was facing an unranked fighter who had no significant wins to her name. Maryna Moroz had struggled for a round and a half against a borderline midget in her professional debut, and had done nothing in her subsequent outings to suggest she could trouble the unbeaten Scot. Should the unthinkable happen, that Calderwood would somehow lose, it would be devastating.
On top of that there had been talk all week long of a possible strawweight title shot for Calderwood should she beat Moroz. Not just any title shot, but one in Glasgow in front of a 13,000 strong tartan army. During every interview the fighter would be asked about that potential fight.
The customary hugs before Calderwood entered the cage seemed to be held just that bit longer. Each one ended with a sigh, as if there was an acknowledgement that something wasn’t quite right, that actually what she needed wasn’t to step into the cage and fight but to stay there held in someone’s arms and told, “it’s ok, everything is going to be alright.”
Jo Jo stood in the cage opposite her opponent, barely moving a muscle. This wasn’t an intense stare down, it was a fighter genuinely looking like they weren’t really there. At least not mentally.
Then, the fight began. And then, it was over.
The two fighters traded strikes before Calderwood was caught and backed up against the fence by her Ukrainian opponent. Moroz pulled guard and worked for an armbar.
On reflection, it is hard to know whether Calderwood froze before or after she had tapped to end the fight. As she stood there, perfectly still, her eyes down fixed on nothing, it became clear. She would rather be anywhere else than stuck in the cage in that moment.
The beaten fighter would not be at the press conference, and there had been no notable interviews broadcast or published since that defeat on Saturday. We were left to draw our own conclusions as to what had happened.
On Monday, the silence was broken, as it so often is, with a tweet.
— Joanne Calderwood (@DRkneevil) April 13, 2015
Twitter reacted, and not everyone was empathetic, and despite an acceptance that this is twitter and we should be used to this sort of reaction by now, that is still pretty sad.
The internet, that smug protection afforded to those sat behind computer screens in the macho world of mixed martial arts can make for an unforgiving, sometimes vitriolic combination.
We have become so used to excuses made by fighters following a defeat that we have created our own unwritten rules about what can and can’t be said. Now, anything other than “they were better than me tonight, but I’ll come back” is deemed disrespectful. People cry from every corner of the net that this is the winner’s moment, that losing fighters should surrender their ego in defeat and not dare to even imply something that might take the shine off that victory.
Except sometimes that isn’t what’s happening.
To speculate as to exactly what pressures Joanne Calderwood was dealing with in her personal life, in particular the night before the fight, would be unfair. There are people who know what happened and it is for them to deal with.
Yet whichever lines you read between, Calderwood’s message didn’t read like the insincere words of a fighter trying to excuse a bad performance, to avoid any blame for the mistakes they made in the cage. They read like the words of someone who is finally acknowledging that something isn’t right. To do so publicly is brave, and the tragedy is that she felt she could not do it sooner.
We all have things to deal with in our personal lives that effect our work, yet we struggle to see things through the paradigms of fighters. There lies part of the problem, we don’t see them as being like us, as people, we see them as fighters. They are held to an entirely different set of standards. In that framework, public signs of weakness are hard to accept.
That’s what’s really sad about all of this. Perhaps the expectation heaped on Calderwood ahead of this fight was a lot to carry on her shoulders. Perhaps when you combine that with the pressure she was under in her personal life, and whatever happened the night before the fight, it was too much.
Maybe she wasn’t strong enough to cope with it and still go out there and perform. Maybe, but you know what?