While Michelle Waterson’s lengthy, injury plagued layoff following her Octagon debut was undoubtedly frustrating, she was able to see the benefit of the time on the sideline following her victory over Paige VanZant in the UFC on Fox 22 headliner on Saturday night.
“The year and a half allowed me to become comfortable in my skin and know who I am as a fighter and know that I belong,” Waterson said at a post-fight press conference. “I don’t need to force anything.”
That was evident at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif., as “The Karate Hottie” dispatched VanZant in short order, winning via rear-naked choke 3:21 into the first frame. The Jackson-Wink MMA product kept her foe at bay in the early going with sidekicks to the body and right hooks before moving into the clinch. From there, Waterson executed a head-and-arm throw that allowed her to transition to VanZant’s back and eventually secure the fight-ending choke. After not competing since a victory over Angela Magana at “The Ultimate Fighter 21” finale in June 2015, Waterson left nothing to chance during her training.
“We prepared for everything,” Waterson said. “She’s a very good fighter and she’s learning and she gets better every fight. We wanted to make sure we were prepared for every scenario.”
However, Waterson did pinpoint one key aspect of her approach that might have slowed the usually hard-charging VanZant.
“I think me switching to southpaw threw her off guard. She looked at me like, ‘Hold up, that’s not what we were getting ready for.’ It kind of screwed with her head,” Waterson said. “That was our game plan from the beginning was to stop her momentum.”
Waterson has now just lost once in nine outings since 2010. While she questioned VanZant’s experience level during pre-fight interviews, the former Invicta titlist insisted that it had nothing to do with a lack of respect for her opponent.
“I’m not one to disrespect any fighters,” she said. “I’m also trying to be more outspoken and honest with myself when I answer questions. I didn’t mean it as a disrespect. I just meant it as an honest answer.”
In the short term, Waterson plans on enjoying the holidays with her family and helping her Jackson-Wink teammates who are currently in camp. But she also wouldn’t mind a relatively quick turnaround for herself, either.
“Whatever the UFC has planned for me I’m in great condition,” she said.
“I’m fresh and I’m ready to get back in there.”