Cynthia Calvillo confident ahead of UFC DC despite turmoil in her camp

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 17:  Cynthia Calvillo poses for a portrait backstage during the UFC Fight Night event at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 17, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Cynthia Calvillo poses for a portrait backstage during the UFC Fight Night event at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Feb. 17, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Cynthia Calvillo was 23 years old and at a crossroads in her life. She’d just lost her job at the Office of Parking Violations — she was the woman who answered the phone when people called to complain about tickets they’d received — for essentially being too nice.

She hadn’t found a career path and wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. But getting let go from that job, while it hurt financially, didn’t exactly kill her.

When an officer would give someone a parking ticket, they’d circle the phone number on the back and advise them to call it with any questions. Call they did, and they usually weren’t happy. And they weren’t interested in either a short conversation, or a two-sided one.

“I would get yelled at pretty much nonstop,” Calvillo said, laughing. “The ticketing officers would always say, ‘Yeah, yeah, just call this number on the back if you can’t resolve it,’ but they did that because they wanted to get the monkey off their backs. They’d call me and yell at me and I’d spend all day doing that. One time, there was this old guy, and he just kept talking and talking. There wasn’t anything else I could do for him, and he just kept talking. I was raised not to be disrespectful to my elders, I couldn’t hang up the phone.

“My managers wanted me to cut short calls like that, but I guess I was too sympathetic. Eventually, I ended up getting let go because I was too nice to the people who were calling in and I was on the phone way too long.”

But around that time, there was an MMA gym across the street. She was intrigued, because she’d always been interested in fighting, and had wrestled plenty with her older brothers, so she decided to give it a try.

It didn’t take long for her to realize she’d found her calling.

“I realized pretty quickly this was what I was meant to do with my life,” said Calvillo, who was 23 at the time but is now 32 and among the best fighters in the world.

Calvillo will meet Marina Rodriguez in the co-main event Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., looking to extend her winning streak to three.

Feb 17, 2019; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cortney Casey (red gloves) and Cynthia Calvillo (blue gloves) fight during their strawweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Calvillo won via unanimous decision Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Cortney Casey (R) and Cynthia Calvillo (L) fight during their strawweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Calvillo won via unanimous decision. (Joe Camporeale-USA Today Sports)

She’s beaten Poliana Botelho and Cortney Casey in her last two outings after a disappointing loss to former strawweight champion Carla Esparza at UFC 219 in Las Vegas on Dec. 30, 2017.

That loss, and the suspension for using marijuana she received afterward, slowed the momentum she’d built by starting her career 6-0 and winning her first three UFC bouts in a span of four months.

She enters against Rodriguez with an 8-1 mark instead of the shiny perfect 9-0 record, but in a lot of ways, she’s not upset with the defeat.

“I’d fought six times in less than a full year and then I took that fight against a former champion,” said Calvillo, who made her pro debut on Aug. 27, 2016, against Jessica Sanchez-Birch. “I was bummed out to lose my unbeaten record, but I honestly don’t mind that loss. It was a lesson learned. I don’t think I lost because she was a better fighter than me.

“I lost because I didn’t make adjustments. But I learned from that. I went out there with a specific game plan that night. Normally, we’re aware of what we want to accomplish, but at the end of the day, it’s up to me to know what I need to accomplish. In this one, my plan was, ‘OK, I’m going to be GSP (Georges St-Pierre) and I’m going to go out there and out-wrestle the wrestler. I felt if she got out of the first round, I’d knock her out in the second or third, because I was doing that in sparring sessions.”

But Esparza is an experienced and talented fighter who knew her way around the cage. Calvillo’s plan didn’t work. “I said to myself, ‘There is no way she is going to out-strike me,” Calvillo said. “But she’s very experienced and she stands very far away and I wound up losing that fight to myself. It was a great learning experience.”

She’s better now, she says, than she’s ever been despite some turmoil in her camp. Her coach, Justin Buchholz, got into a dispute with Team Alpha Male and left to start his own gym, so Calvillo went with him.

The only problem was, Buchholz’s gym wasn’t finished. So she ultimately went to Thailand to train. After camp, her coach, Thonglor Armatsena, aka "Master Thong," couldn’t get back into the U.S. to work her corner because he’d previously overstayed his visa by a considerable period.

That may have shaken her before, but she’s confident she’ll perform at a high level with Buchholz and George Hickman in her corner.

“I’m really excited to show the development and the improvements I’ve made,” Calvillo said. “Marina is undefeated and she’s beaten some notable names and she belongs in this situation. She’s a great opponent for me at this stage and a win over her will look great on my résumé. I want to remind people of what I can do and I think you’ll see that [on Saturday].”

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