A title eliminator in all but name. That was the feeling ahead of Lauren Murphy vs. Joanne Calderwood, part of the UFC 263 televised prelims on Saturday.
Lauren Murphy had won four straight heading into the event. Calderwood had won her last outing, after seeing a previously promised title shot slip through her fingers last year when a title fight was put on hold. With the champion injured, “JoJo” opted to stay busy and take a fight against Jennifer Maia that she ultimately lost.
While the UFC had the option of going with a Plan B, the winner of Calderwood vs. Murphy would certainly be a deserving option for champ Valentina Shevchenko. Especially if someone could make a statement Saturday.
Murphy started out holding center, with Calderwood circling on the outside. Both fighters took big swings — and missed. Calderwood fired a spinning back fist, but it was Murphy landing a punch over top of it. Murphy got the better of things in a clinch along the fence, driving in against “JoJo” and landing the positional battle — but Calderwood escaped off a knee. She then landed a few probing leg kicks, while Murphy connected with her left.
While on the outside, Calderwood performed well, but Murphy’s power was on display when she closed the distance. A slicing elbow landed for Calderwood in the clinch however, as she displayed some of her Muay Thai skills. Calderwood finished up the round with a spinning back fist.
The second saw Calderwood firing early. Murphy opted to tie things up almost immediately after, looking for a takedown in a clinch alongside the cage. Murphy’s strength served her well as she essentially forced Calderwood to the mat. She then trapped Calderwood’s arm. Murphy worked from half guard, softening her opponent up with punches. She looked to move to the back for a choke, but didn’t have space to work. On bottom, Calderwood turned her body, looking for a path to escape out. Murphy briefly worked for an arm-triangle choke, but didn’t have it. She’d spent the rest of the round on top and in control.
Round three opened with Calderwood working her jab. However, depending on how the first round was scored, she was likely in need of a finish. And even should the opening frame be scored her way, there was a possibility of a 10-8 in the second for Murphy. In a clinch, Calderwood uncorked some elbows and knees. Murphy answered back with knees of her own. Moments later, it was another Thai clinch. By far, the third round had been Calderwood’s best. Once again, she unleashed a spinning back fist late in the round. Murphy fired a combo; they battled to the final bell.
What a fight from these two! 👊
— UFC (@ufc) June 13, 2021
In the end, Murphy earned her fifth straight win in a close one. That said, it seems hard to deny her a title shot at this point, and she had moments of dominance against Calderwood. She finished the fight bloodied, but victorious.
Official Result: Lauren Murphy def. Joanne Calderwood by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)