While the spotlight will be affixed to the main event at UFC 229 as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor finally lock horns, the October 6 Pay-Per-View main card kicks off with a clash between veteran strawweights looking to put themselves in position to make a run towards to the top of the division in 2019.
More than a decade after being cast members on the Oxygen network’s reality series Fight Girls, Michelle Waterson and Felice Herrig will share the Octagon together in the opening bout of next Saturday’s main card at T-Mobile Arena.
Both women last fought in April and enter this contest after being on opposite sides of the same result.
Competing at UFC 223, Herrig had her four-fight winning streak snapped when she dropped a split decision to former title challenger and Top 5 fixture Karolina Kowalkiewicz in Brooklyn. Early in the bout, the rankings fixtures traded in the pocket and battled in the clinch, separated by the narrowest of margins before Herrig landed the most telling blow of the bout in the third. Despite wobbling Kowalkiewicz, the 34-year-old was unable to capitalize and ultimately landed on the business end of the split decision verdict.
One week later in Glendale, Arizona, Waterson and Casey kicked off the main card for the year’s third FOX event. Like Herrig and Kowalkiewicz the week prior in Brooklyn, the strawweights went the distance and the judges were divided on who deserved the nod, with Waterson landing on the happy side of the split.
While Herrig had entered her bout with Kowalkiewicz on the best run of her UFC career, longtime Jackson-Wink MMA representative Waterson arrived in the desert looking to halt a two-fight skid and did so thanks to a couple timely takedowns and two of the three officials sitting cageside seeing things her way in the ultra-close contest.
And this weekend’s battle should be no different.
Waterson and Herrig are similar in multiple ways, right down to the fact that they both have 21 professional fights under their belts as they ready to reach 22 together in Las Vegas. While Waterson comes from a karate background and Herrig is more of a Muay Thai stylist, they’re both strikers at heart with solid submission skills and scrambling abilities in their back pockets should the action hit the canvas.
Neither has the fight-altering power of top contender Jessica Andrade or the dominant wrestling skills of rising star Tatiana Suarez, but both are high output, high cardio, high pace veterans with a propensity for delivering entertaining performances whenever they step into the Octagon.
What makes this contest so compelling, however, is where these two women are at in their respective careers and how that fits within the current landscape of the 115-pound weight division.
Although Herrig enters next weekend’s main card opener off a loss, the TUF 20 cast member is still in the midst of the most consistent stretch of her career. She took well over a year off following her unanimous decision loss to Paige VanZant in April 2015 and returned with a vengeance, submitting Kailin Curran before handing Alexa Grasso her first professional loss and adding strong outings over Justine Kish and Casey to push her winning streak to four.
And throughout her battle with Kowalkiewicz earlier this year, the “Lil Bulldog” was right there with her, trading shots and working out of tight spots while being the better fighter down the stretch. Despite a setback in her last appearance, Herrig is on the upswing overall, and with the Top 15 in a state of flux, a victory here could carry her to heights she’s not yet reached in the rankings to this point in her career.
Conversely, Waterson enters off a victory and has been a fixture in the Top 10 throughout her UFC career, but the popular strawweight is at a bit of a crossroads.
After missing 17 months following her debut victory over Angela Magana, the 32-year-old earned a first-round submission victory over VanZant in a headlining assignment on FOX, elevating her into the title picture. But 2017 was a struggle for “The Karate Hottie,” as Waterson landed on the wrong side of a submission finish against Rose Namajunas in April before getting outworked by Tecia Torres at UFC 218 in early December.
While getting back into the win column against Casey was a step in the right direction, a setback against Herrig would leave Waterson in the midst of a 1-3 run over her last four fights and in the crosshairs of the collection of up-and-comers looking to usurp her place in the Top 15.
With a position in the pecking order and the opportunity to establish secure footing heading into next year at stake, next weekend’s main card opener should get UFC 229 off to a rollicking start and help set the tone for the remainder of the evening.