When Michelle Waterson steps into the Octagon Saturday night, she’ll take on her former cast mate from the 2007 Oxygen show Fight Girls, Felice Herrig. The two have evolved on concurrent paths in the fight game since that series first debuted, and remarkably, each will be recording their 22nd fight when they meet at UFC 229.
We sat down with the always-charismatic Waterson to ask her about that fight, the support of her family, and of course, that #LevelUp challenge with Holly Holm.
UFC: You were on Fight Girls years ago with your UFC 229 opponent Felice Herrig. What memories do you have of being on that show?
MW: You know, it was so long ago, and I was so young, and both of us have changed so much. I remember it being the experience of a lifetime. I was very young and had just decided to make fighting a career. I was fresh. I was green. I was naïve. And getting thrown into a reality show and put in a house full of girls, you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about the world around you. I learned a lot about the fight game, all the stuff inside and outside of it; the physical and emotional rollercoaster you go through when you put yourself out there.
UFC: You mentioned Herrig as a possible opponent almost a year ago. What about this matchup intrigues you? What advantages do you see against her?
MW: [Felice] and I have been on this ride a very long time together. I think from the [Fight Girls] show she and I are the only ones still actively fighting. It’s cool to see two pioneers in the top ten of the division continuing to grow and climb up the ladder. But I would like to knock her out…er...knock her off the ladder [laughs].
I see an advantage in pretty much everything. My standup is more versatile. I have the speed. I can fight orthodox or southpaw. My wrestling is better. I have more variety with my shots. My jiu-jitsu is more of a blended MMA-style of jiu-jitsu. I have more submissions than her. I have more finishes than her, and I just feel like an all-around better MMA fighter than she is.
UFC: How does having support from your family shape you as a fighter?
MW: My husband is an amazing man. He boxed when he was in the Air Force. Fighting has been a passion of his as long as he can remember. When I got pregnant he put his fighting career on the shelf so he’d have a more stable job. If you’re a fighter, you know what I’m talking about! It’s kind of like being a starving artist [laughs]. It’s unpredictable. You don’t know when you’re getting paid. There’s a lot of sacrifice of time that goes into trying to build your career.
He decided to get a job in the corporate world as a financial adviser. It was more stable, we were able to have insurance and all that good stuff. But I knew his heart still belonged to fighting. Since then he’s been in my corner. He’s helped improve my boxing. He’s believed in me more than I’ve believed in myself sometimes.
Sometimes it’s hard to explain to a spouse the time and dedication and sacrifice needed to get to where you want to be. But he understands that, and he’s fully supportive of that. He knows when I’m “hangry” [laughs]. He knows when I’m depleted. He knows when I’m training to hard. He knows when to push me.
UFC: What about your daughter? How does she feel about what you do?
MW: My daughter is the same. She has been a part of this journey since before she can remember; since she was in my belly. She’s been to every single one of my fights, win or lose. It’s important to bring her along on this journey because there’s a lot that she sacrifices too. I don’t know how many times we’ve moved birthdays or how may recitals we missed or how many school functions we’ve missed because of Mommy’s fight career. I grateful for her and the fact that she understands that this something I’m pursuing. I hope that she knows that this is what you do in life, you go after your dreams. I’m a big believer in walking the walk, not just talking the talk, especially as a parent. The best way to teach her is to show her.
It is definitely not your everyday job for a mother, but she really does enjoy it. She enjoys the crowds. She enjoys meeting all these very cool people. She enjoys introducing me to her teacher as “The Karate Hottie” [laughs]. What I love about it is that she’s surrounded by people who are hungry and driven and dedicated, and that’s normal to her.
UFC: You got your hand raised last time against Cortney Casey. Have you carried any momentum from that fight into this one?
MW: I’ve taken every fight in my career and integrated it into my evolution as a martial artist. With each fight, I evolve. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. I evolved when I fought Rose, I evolved when I fought Tecia and I evolved when I fought Cortney; each time gaining more and more confidence. I’m coming into this fight with Felice with really deep, genuine confidence in my abilities as a martial artist, knowing I’ve built a career out of 20 years of practice.
UFC: So now the question of the hour: tell us about the ‘Level Up’ challenge; how did your fans like it? Did you hear from Ciara?
If you missed @KarateHottieMMA and @HollyHolm's #LevelUpChallenge then you need to check it out! Here's what Waterson had to say about the dance and its message : pic.twitter.com/4hA90bq4Z3
— UFC News (@UFCNews) October 3, 2018
MW: It was so exciting! Holly [Holm] was the one who was like “Hey, let’s do a level up challenge!” Holly loved the message and so do I; leveling up, not kinda getting stuck in a rut, in an everyday routine. You know, what are you gonna do to level up? Not a lot of people knew Holly had them dance moves, but she does! I felt like I was in middle school again, practicing dance moves to perform for my parents. It was just fun. It was nice to kind of break up the monotony of training and have a little girl time. And yeah, Ciara saw our video and shared it on her [Instagram] story, which is really cool! It was hard choreography though, super hard! We were planning on doing it outside, but we had to do it inside so we could put it up on my screen and watch Ciara while we were doing it because we were so lost [laughs].
Steve Latrell, Gavin Porter & Zac Pacleb are writers and producers for UFC.com. You can follow them on Twitter @TheUFSteve, @PorterUFCnews and @ZacPacleb .