The strawweight division is home to some of the most prolific contenders in the UFC, including former champions Jessica Andrade, Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili.
The always changing titleholder makes room for new and entertaining matchups for potential challengers looking to rise up the ranks. Two of those contenders are Michelle Waterson-Gomez and Amanda Lemos, who face off this Saturday in the co-headliner at UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs Rodriguez in Long Island.
The veteran Waterson-Gomez jumped onto the scene back in 2016 with two submission victories in her first two UFC fights against Angela Magaña and Paige VanZant, quickly becoming one of strawweight division’s brightest prospects.
Since then, “The Karate Hottie” has fought some of the toughest challengers the division has to offer, including former champions Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Namajunas, and current champion Carla Esparza.
Despite losing three of her last four bouts, albeit to Jedrzejczyk, Esparza and the surging Marina Rodriguez, her experience against elite opponents may pay dividends against Lemos, who has only fought one ranked opponent since entering the UFC in 2017.
As of late, Waterson-Gomez has also suffered consistent minor injuries that have sidelined her for over a year. But with a rejuvenated spirit, she enters the Octagon this weekend eager to get back on track towards the top of the division.
“Sometimes you go into fights and opportunities slip between your fingers and I’m just really in the moment at this time and embracing this beautiful life that I have,” Waterson-Gomez said. “Just realizing how blessed I am to live the dream, to do what I love to do; I’ve been a lifelong martial artist since I was 10 years old.”
In her way is the No. 11 Lemos, a former bantamweight who has showcased technical striking paired with heavy hands since dropping down to 115 pounds in 2019.
Unlike Waterson, Lemos is making a quick turnaround since her latest bout against Andrade in April. In her biggest test to date, Lemos lost by submission to the former champion just over three minutes into the first round.
Coming out of the fight rather unscathed, Lemos was eager to take the next available fight and get back in the win column.
“After my loss, I was immediately thinking about my next fight,” Lemos said. “There was no time to cry — I was back in the gym because it made me more motivated, looking forward to getting back into the Octagon to shake that off.”
Prior to her meeting with Andrade, Lemos finished three of her five UFC wins. With knockout wins against Montserrat Conejo and Livinha Souza, and a first-round submission against Miranda Granger, the Brazilian poses threats wherever the fight goes.
“[Lemos] does come to fight,” Waterson-Gomez said. “She bites down on her mouthpiece, she throws hard, with intention. I’m looking forward to stopping her. I’m looking forward to going in there and bringing all my tools with me, having fun, using the entire canvas, using all my tools…everything I have whenever I can.”
Waterson-Gomez’s unique footwork lets her to move in and out of range well, allowing her to hit without being hit. One thing she’s lacked, however, is finishes, her last coming back in 2016 against VanZant.
Lemos doesn’t want to be patient and allow Waterson-Gomez to dictate the pace of the bout, and she is more than willing to bring the pressure and danger to her opponent in search of an entertaining finish for the Long Island crowd.
“She likes to leave it to the judges most of the time,” Lemos said. “I don’t. I like to finish fights, so I trained a lot to stop her game; to keep her from scoring points throughout the rounds and finish her.”
UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs Rodriguez, took place live from the UBS Arena in Long Island, New York on July 16, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC FIGHT PASS!