Cynthia Calvillo (6-1) returns this weekend, at UFC Fight Night: Magny vs. Ponzinibbio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after serving a 9-month suspension for cannabis. Calvillo, who started her UFC career with three straight victories, is hoping to get back to winning ways in South America and — in the process — climb back into the UFC’s strawweight rankings.
Calvillo’s long wait on the sidelines came after a positive drug test for marijuana metabolite Carboxy-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), following her loss to Carla Esparza at UFC 219. Calvillo accepted a six month suspension from the UFC’s official drug testing partner USADA. However, the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) — who oversaw UFC 219 — handed down a nine month suspension of their own.
Calvillo served the USADA and NAC suspensions concurrently and was officially cleared to return on September 30th. Along with being suspended, Calvillo was also fined 15% of her $41,000 purse (by the NAC).
Calvillo told Bloody Elbow she still considers the NAC’s suspension, “pretty bogus.” Part of her reasoning is the fact that marijuana is legal in both Nevada, where she competed, and California, where she lives. Additionally, Calvillo thinks the suspension was hypocritical given the NAC’s connection to the marijuana industry.
“The Nevada commission gave me nine months and the head chairman of the commission actually makes a ton of money out of cannabis,” said Calvillo, referring to Anthony Marnell who applied for medical marijuana production, cultivation, and dispensary permits in 2014.
“For whatever reason, [the NAC] wanted to make an example out of me and give me nine months,” said Calvillo. “I know that there were other athletes who tested positive for marijuana as well as me and they only got six months and other athletes that actually used performance enhancing supplements and got six months. So it is what is. I have to suck it up and just deal with it.”
Calvillo said she will be more “cautious” during training camp from now on and ensure she does not use marijuana in the weeks leading up to a fight. “As an athlete I need to be responsible and own it. I’ve just got to be super cautious about that.”
2017 was an eventful year for Calvillo and not just because of her drug test failure. The Team Alpha Male product fought five times that year, starting with an LFA bout against the UFC’s Montana De La Rosa in January. Less than three months after that she won her UFC debut against Amanda Cooper. Less than a month later she beat Pearl Gonzalez. And less than three months after that she beat Joanne Calderwood in Glasgow.
After beating Calderwood, Calvillo took a mini-break of five months before facing former champ Esparza. After so much activity last year, being prohibited from competition for the lion’s share of 2018 has been quite the adjustment for Calvillo.
However, it’s not been all bad — according to Calvillo. The long period without fighting has allowed her to “heal up” and seriously re-examine her training regimen.
“I’m such a workhorse,” stated Calvillo. “You couldn’t get me out of the gym. You’d have to kick me out. This time around, I’m way more careful and we’re focusing more on athleticism and conditioning and making sure I get the proper recovery from training. And I feel great.
“As an athlete sometimes you just want to go and go, and you think you have so much to work on, but in mixed martial arts you can only practice every area so many times a week … I’m now learning how to deal with my body and I feel just as great even with pulling back a little from my training.”
Even though she said she appreciated having these past 11 months to ‘heal up’, Calvillo rejected the suggestion that her loss to Esparza could be attributed to physical wear and tear.
“I thought I had more than enough time [to prepare for Esparza],” said Calvillo. “I felt pretty good and in shape. I think it was just more about me having a different mindset. My first couple of fights, I went in there and had a lot of fun and was smiling. This last one I had, I was a little bit more serious and had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder for whatever reason. I thought I was going to go in there and, honestly, run through her. But it doesn’t matter how good you feel, anything can happen in a fight so that’s exactly what happened.”
Calvillo wondered aloud if fighting so often in 2017, and being in a constant “fight or flight” mode — as she put it, contributed to some mental wear and tear leading up to the Esparza fight. Taking a break from the anxiety and stress of preparing for a fight is another reason, she said, she’s benefited from a chance to reset over an extended period of time before taking on her next challenge: Poliana Botelho (7-1).
Botelho last appeared at May’s UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Usman in Santiago, Chile. There she finished Syrui Kondo in the first round. That performance definitely got Calvillo’s attention.
“She’s a heavy hitter,” she said. “She’s big, she cuts a lot of weight. I would say that my jiu jitsu ground game is a lot better than hers. She usually uses her size to keep her opponent away. She doesn’t like moving backwards, so she moves forwards and likes to get into these brawls. So I think I’ve got to use my footwork and my athleticism, and go in for the takedowns, and make it an easy fight for myself.”
Calvillo said she was “counting down the seconds” leading up to her return fight and that each day she gets “happier and happier” knowing it is fast approaching. However, the opportunity to make some sort of statement to the UFC and its fans is not part of what has her raring to go. In Argentina, she’s fighting for herself.
“I feel like I have a lot of confidence in myself. If I go in there and try and prove anything to anybody, it’s not really about that. I’ve put in a lot of work. I have supreme confidence that I’m the type of fighter that’s entertaining and I’m going to go in there and have fun. And everyone is going to enjoy watching. That in itself is going to make a statement. Because when I’m having fun, that’s my best performance. So everyone is in for a treat. I’m pretty stoked for this.”
UFC Fight Night: Magny vs. Ponzinibbio begins at 7PM ET. Calvillo vs. Botelho is the first fight of the FS1 main card. That action, which also includes Ricardo Lamas vs. Darren Elkins, gets underway at 10PM ET.