Preview: UFC 263 Prelims - Calderwood vs. Murphy

By: Tom Feely
Jun 10, 2021

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Women’s Flyweights

#6 WFLW | Joanne Calderwood (15-5, 7-5 UFC) vs. #3 WFLW | Lauren Murphy (14-4, 6-4 UFC)

ODDS: Calderwood (-150), Murphy (+130)

This is sneakily one of the most important fights on the card, as the winner would have to be the favorite to be Valentina Shevchenko’s next flyweight title challenger. A win here would cap off a stunning run for Murphy given the rough nature of the start of her UFC career. Murphy was the Invicta Fighting Championships bantamweight titleholder when she stepped in on late notice to face Sara McMann in 2014. After three rounds of grinding action, the two had essentially fought an even fight that wound up going against Murphy on the scorecards. Her follow-up fight against Liz Carmouche was even more deflating. It was another grind, but this time, Murphy was much more clearly the winner per the general consensus; once again, however, the scorecards went against her. At that point, Murphy adopted her “Lucky” nickname as a bit of an ironic moniker, but she thankfully left no doubt with a third-round stoppage of Kelly Faszholz and finally notched her first UFC win. After another loss at bantamweight, Murphy was surprisingly announced as part of the cast of an all-flyweight season of “The Ultimate Fighter” that aimed to crown the division’s first champ. As it turns out, the change has suited her well. She has obviously been helped by being at a greater strength advantage in the wrestling and grappling departments, but she has also done well to put in the work as a striker. Around the time of her August 2019 win over Mara Romero Borella, it became apparent that Murphy had turned a corner as someone willing to throw both at a pace and with power. Murphy’s 2020 campaign saw her rack up three wins and establish herself as a top contender. Now it is time for her to get over the hump against Calderwood.

Calderwood has had her own journey to get to this point, as the Scotswoman has had her own false starts in regard to title contention over the years. In an alternate universe, Calderwood could have gotten a title shot as far back as 2015, as she was the presumptive top contender when the UFC announced its first trip to Glasgow, Scotland. However, Calderwood preferred to maintain an active schedule and took a fight against unknown newcomer Maryna Moroz, which ended in stunning fashion when the Ukrainian won via armbar in just 90 seconds. Calderwood spent the next few years mostly treading water while being one of the more vocal proponents of a women’s flyweight division, so it was no surprise that once the UFC opened up the 125-pound doors, she was quick to move up to her natural weight class. Calderwood has looked much better since the move—in a familiar story, she has benefited greatly from being both physically stronger and able to keep a higher pace—though she still had some more professional heartbreak in 2020. After winning three of her four bouts at flyweight, the UFC named Calderwood as its top contender and matched her with Shevchenko in June. Once the pandemic scuttled those plans and Shevchenko was unavailable for an immediate pairing, Calderwood chose to stay active and defend her top contender status against Jennifer Maia; once again, she was forced to tap to a first round armbar. Calderwood thankfully righted the ship with a strong performance against Jessica Eye in January, and she gets a chance to recapture that lost title shot here.

This might be the hardest fight on the card to call. Neither woman tends to separate themselves much from their opponents, and this is basically an even matchup. In terms of striking, there is not much of a power edge on either side, so Calderwood might have the advantage due to her willingness to set a higher pace. Of course, that means that she eats more offense coming back from her opponents in return. The clinch and wrestling aspects of this fight are also hard to parse. Murphy’s natural strength has gotten her through some close fights at flyweight, and when all else fails, she has been able to go back to her bullying ways and grind out some control time. However, one of the most impressive aspects of Calderwood’s performance against Eye was that she was mostly able to keep the fight standing against an opponent who figured to have her own wrestling advantage. Honestly, both women’s recent performances suggest that they are still continuing to improve in their mid-to-late 30s, so there is a chance that this fight could be won on a skill that one of the two has honed in the months since they last competed. This figures to be a narrow affair, and in the face of all else, pace and volume are probably the safest things on which to fall back. The pick is Calderwood by close decision.

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