Photo: Will Fox
At first glance, there appears to be a wide gap in experience between Invicta FC 6 foes Joanne Calderwood and Norma Rueda Center.
Not only does Calderwood have four more professional fights to her credit, but the Glasgow, Scotland native has already competed twice under the Invicta banner and once for the Europe-based Cage Warriors Fighting Championship promotion. Center, meanwhile, is unbeaten in two outings for regional organizations, with both victories coming against opponents making their first pro appearance.
None of the above is particularly worrisome for Center, an El Paso, Texas, native who is currently anchored at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M. Center believes her 5-0 amateur record should not be discounted, and her time spent as a collegiate wrestler nicely counteracts Calderwood’s celebrated muay Thai skills.
“I know that she has a lot of muay Thai fights. Then again, I don’t even know how many wrestling matches I have,” Center told Sherdog.com. “We come with different backgrounds and extended backgrounds. I thought this was the perfect fight to take with her experience and my experience.”
Center-Calderwood is one of 10 Invicta FC 6 bouts scheduled to air via pay-per-view on Saturday night. The card, which takes place at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., is headlined by a featherweight title showdown between Marloes Coenen and Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino. While previous Invicta events were only available online, the promotion’s sixth card will air on cable and satellite pay-per-view for $14.95 beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
Center’s path to mixed martial arts began on the wrestling mats at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky. She had taken a year off from competition after winning a state championship as a prep athlete in El Paso, but her competitive fire still burned.
“At the time when I got there, it was the No. 1 [women’s] team,” Center said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I walked in, kind of recruited myself and said, ‘I’m gonna be here.’ I love the sport too much.
It was at the University of the Cumberlands that she met her future husband, Dustin Center, who was competing for the Patriots men’s wrestling program. Though she didn’t know it at first, her then-boyfriend was also dabbling in another combat sport at the time. Dustin Center kept his MMA training a secret in part because he thought it might be a turn-off. It turned out to be quite the opposite.
“He didn’t tell me he was a fighter when we first met,” Center said. “When I found out, I was ecstatic. I was like, ‘I’m gonna go to all your fights.’ When I started doing it, he was a nervous wreck, but whenever he fights I’m the same way.
“That’s one of the coolest things between me and my husband: We like to train; we like to work out -- so MMA fits.”
Center’s training included a stint at Dayton MMA in Ohio under two-time UFC veteran Michael Patt. The experience proved valuable, but ultimately Center wanted to be closer to home -- without exactly being home.
“I really liked it, and [Patt] really encouraged me to step it up further. He would give me short-notice fights, and I would take them,” Center said. “I grew homesick living in Ohio. I was like, ‘I can’t handle this anymore. I’m from the desert.’ My husband and I came to a compromise. I didn’t want to go to El Paso -- I love El Paso, but I just didn’t want to go back. I wanted to find something new.”
Jackson’s MMA, a little less than a four-hour drive from El Paso, has proven to be a good fit. A talented stable of teammates has enabled Center to raise her game as she prepares for her biggest bout to date.
“[A lot] of my teammates are in Invicta,” Center said. “For me to be part of it as well, it just gives us a little bit more strength. I’m excited to be a part of it, and I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity.”