Michelle Waterson has been a member of the UFC roster since April, but that reality still hasn’t sunk in for “The Karate Hottie.”
“I don’t think it’s gonna hit me until I actually fight,” she said. “I guess that’s how it always is. I have a lot of teammates that fight for the UFC and they all keep telling me the same thing, that a fight’s a fight, regardless, so just think of it that way and you’ll be good.”
A longtime member of the Jackson’s MMA team in Albuquerque, Waterson may be new to the UFC, but when she makes her Octagon debut this Sunday in Las Vegas against Angela Magana, she won’t be new to the spotlight, which is often half the battle when dealing with the infamous first time UFC jitters.
A former kickboxer whose MMA run has seen her compile a 12-4 record that includes an Invicta FC atomweight championship, Waterson has headlined shows for that promotion, and was often seen as the face of the all-women’s MMA organization. It’s given her an ease when faced with a barrage of interviews and media obligations, and as she gets ready for even more as a UFC fighter, she accepts it all as part of the job.
“I think you learn what to do and what not to do and you really do have to embrace it as part of the process,” the 29-year-old said. “When you’re a fighter, it’s not only that one night. There are so many things that go into it that people don’t realize, so you have to be mentally prepared and emotionally prepared, and, of course, Conor McGregor says it all the time, media is a part of it, and we have to learn to deal with that as well.”
Winner of six of her last seven bouts, Waterson was on a tear at 105 pounds before an upset loss to Herica Tiburcio last December. In the process, she lost the atomweight title she won from Jessica Penne in 2013, but after the defeat, she thought of starting a new journey ten pounds north in the UFC, which doesn’t have a 105-pound weight class at the moment.
“It was something I wanted to do,” she said. “Obviously I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if things went my way for my last fight, but when I didn’t win, I felt like maybe it was an open opportunity for me to take. I feel like everything happens for a reason and so I contacted the UFC to see if they were interested and then we just went from there.”
The arrival of Waterson to the UFC was greeted with great excitement, as she’s another quality addition to a talented and growing strawweight roster. But at the same time, there are questions about whether the added 10 pounds will help or hurt her. She’s going with the former.
“I feel amazing and I keep telling all my teammates and people that ask me that I think it’s going to be a great weight class for me to compete in,” Waterson said. “I’m not depriving myself of food, I’m still eating very healthy, I’m able to train three, four times a day with lots of energy and I think it’s a great move for me.”
Magana, an Ultimate Fighter 20 cast member whose resume goes back way before that, with wins over Jessica Aguilar and Barb Honchak standing out from the pack, will be a solid test for Waterson, who could parlay a Sunday win into a bout against a top 15 contender, and with another victory, she might very well be knocking on the door of a title shot.
“For me, I don’t fight unless I’m trying to go to the very top, and I think that should be everybody’s goal, to be the very best,” she said. “You’ve got to fight all the girls one way or another, but I don’t think I would have moved up unless I felt and believed in my skills and abilities to beat all the girls in the division.”
Waterson has come a long way to turn into an “overnight success,” but she’s fine with being the newcomer, because in the great scheme of things, the only title that matters is the one she can put around her waist, and this weekend the quest for one with the letters U-F-C on it begins.
“I wouldn’t necessarily call it a fresh start, but definitely a new chapter in my life,” she said. “I’ve been fighting professionally for ten years now and I feel like this is my time. I’m finally kind of breaking through the surface, and whether people know me from my previous fights or this will be the first time they see me, I feel like people will see a new and improved ‘Karate Hottie.’”