In any sport, a mixture of confidence and humility often makes or breaks the mental toughness in an athlete. By knowing they’re one of the best in the world at what they do, complacency inevitably starts to creep into their psyche. On the flip side, constantly searching for areas to improve can also lead to hesitancy and a lack of confidence.
For fighters, having any doubt in their skills isn’t really an option when the person across from them wants to do damage, so finding that balance is critical.
Because of her background, Michelle Waterson realized that while she was good at finding areas for improvement, she wasn’t allowing herself to know she was great in other areas.
“I think just coming from a martial arts background and coming from and being a daughter of a military man and an Asian mom, everything is very structured,” she said. “Everybody has their place and you kind of have to like stay in your lane and be in your place.”
With the help of a sports psychologist, Waterson started to give herself some credit. She said they talk about athletes like Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and even light heavyweight champion Jon Jones knowing they had areas to work on while still at the pinnacle of their career.
“You can be at your greatest, but you will always have things to work on,” Waterson said. “There’s no reason to hold yourself back from that greatness, and that’s just something that I’ve really taken in and embraced.”
Heading into Philadelphia to face Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Waterson is riding a two-fight winning streak. With a win over Kowalkiewicz, she could launch herself even closer to the top of the strawweight division.
UFC.com talked to Waterson about what it was like having the ESPN camera crews following her, what she thinks about her fight and when she realized her life was a little different than a normal fighter’s everyday life.
UFC: What was it like having the ESPN crew spotlighting what’s become normal to you?
Michelle Waterson: I used to get frazzled when the cameras would come around, but I’ve come to a place in my life where I’m just comfortable with who I am and OK with letting people into my life because, yes, it is crazy, and it is chaotic, but that is my life, and I think it’s important to show people the reality of a fighter/mom/wife. I hope when people get to see the doc or any short clips, that they understand life isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. What’s important is that you continue to move forward and take steps toward your goals.
UFC: At what point did you realize your life was unique among your peers?
MW: I just think that I have less downtime. The recovery, for me, is the most important, and I feel like that is the biggest, the hardest thing to squeeze in as the busier I get as a mother and a wife, so with some other fighters, I notice that they have some more downtime to recover, to do more recreational things, but for me, when I get home, it’s homework and dinner and laundry and dishes, so there’s less time for recovery. But thankfully, I have a husband that is awesome, and he kind of takes a huge load off of me during fight camp.
UFC: You’ve strung together a couple good wins. What’s been working for you in your last couple fights?
MW: Yeah, stringing together a couple wins and knowing that I’m getting closer to my goal for fighting for the belt is my motivation and something that drives me to train every day and get better every day, so I’m really, deeply confident in this fight, in myself and in all my skills and abilities. I just feel like what has changed is my mentality as a martial artist and the understanding that it’s OK to feel great and to know the greatness within yourself while still continuing to learn.
UFC: Speaking about your opponent, what do you think of the matchup as a whole?
MW: I’m really excited to fight Karolina. She is ranked top-5 in the division. I think that’s going to get my closer to fighting for the belt. Out of all the girls in the division, she’s one of the more well-rounded girls, and I’m excited to fight her. I think she’s a good pressure fighter whose ground is underrated, and I’m excited to explore all those avenues with her come fight night, and I know that I can still a step ahead of her the entire fight.
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.
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