What do you call a woman whose profession involves intense training, beating people up and looking great through all of it? Well, she calls herself a professional badass, but to the rest of us, she’s known as “Karate hottie”. UFC’s Michelle Waterson talks to ABQLive about how she balances it all and details the journey of how she got to where she is today.
by brenda paiz
Waterson grew up in Aurora, Co. where her father was stationed in the Army. As a child, she recalls being drawn to cartoons and shows like “Mortal Kombat,” “Power Rangers,” and “TMNT.” As she continued to be inspired by these fictional characters that she saw on TV, her inspiration hit a little closer to home when her older brother-whom she refers to as her “hero”- decided to join martial arts. It wasn't very long before Waterson followed in her brothers footsteps, learning the style of American Freestyle Karate. “Karate gave me the confidence I needed as a young girl. This world can be a cruel place and when you're a teenager trying to find yourself,” she explains, “it's important to have something in your life that gives you confidence, guidance and a community you can trust outside of your family.”
Throughout high school, Waterson remembers being active and involved in school activities, putting forth her athleticism into two years of cheerleading and even a season of swimming but martial arts always took the spotlight. “I loved that [martial arts] challenged me like nothing else had before,” she explains, “so I continued to push the boundaries, and I continue to do so today.”
While in college, Waterson recalls feeling depressed and uninspired, “I was tired all the time…I decided to journey on a path that would ignite that fire that had been put out.” The fire she speaks of? Happiness, adrenaline, feeling alive and having a purpose. Shortly after, Waterson says she finally took the plunge and started fighting in amateur fights called “smokers.” Six fights later, she turned professional and says she has not looked back since.
Since signing with the UFC in 2015, Waterson has been training at Jackson Wink MMA Academy here in Albuquerque and describes how that experience alone is a reward in itself, “The thing that is so special about Jackson Wink MMA Academy are the people. People come from all corners of the globe to this gym because of its unique atmosphere and never-ending growth of knowledge,” she says, “there is a special language that is spoken at the gym. It’s a universal language that is earned through blood, sweat and tears! It bonds us for life.” And it's not just the gym that has helped mold her into who she is today, it's the city of Albuquerque as well. Waterson says as a young adult that her coaches and teammates took what she had and “amplified” her abilities with their support. “[This city] has given me opportunities others could only dream of and I am very blessed to call Albuquerque my home.”
Although Waterson has achieved a great deal over the last decade, she does open up about the struggles and obstacles that she has had to face as well. Broken bones and injuries are just a few of the physical setbacks but she says these obstacles only add dimension to her path. “Growing pains are always uncomfortable but I see them as roots grasping to the earth that act as my foundation as I grow into my full potential,” she says. Not all the obstacles were negative though, in the middle of her career, Waterson gave birth to her daughter, whom she now says gives her new hope and motivation.
In addition to drawing inspiration from family and loved ones, Waterson says she draws inspiration from a variety of places. “Movies (like ‘Rocky’), songs, beautiful sunrises, teammates, rivals, family and my desires for the future!” she says. Her favorite athlete is fellow Albuquerque native and UFC champion Holly Holm. Waterson is very grateful and feels privileged for getting to train alongside Holm and to become her friend. “[Holly Holm] is the truest definition of a warrior inside and outside of the cage and I hope to continue to learn from her.”
The past year has been a huge year for women in fighting, and Waterson says she feels very fortunate to have contributed to the evolution of women in the UFC. “I feel I've contributed in the sense that a lot of the young women that are competing today watched me when they were just children and as I was coming up and competing, they were motivated to continue to train so that one day they could compete themselves and now there is a place for us at the highest level,” she says.
This month Waterson will take on Paige VanZant, who some say is coming off her greatest career win. Although Waterson has been has been recently dealing with a knee injury, she says her latest injury will have no effect whatsoever on this fight saying that “every fight is different, but I'm prepared for all situations!” She says that her training has been no different preparing for this fight as any other. Preparing for a fight usually is 80 percent mental, she says. “You had better believe in yourself, because you can lose the fight before you ever step into the cage,” she explains, “the best way to build your confidence is to train your butt off and leave no stone unturned.” And train her butt off, she does. Waterson runs 4-5 times a week, grapples, wrestles, spars, does bag work and has private mitt sessions each about 2-3 times a week at various locations throughout Albuquerque.
Waterson describes her most memorable victory as her fight against Jessica Penne , where she was the contender for the Invicta FC belt. “I was a huge underdog and underrated. I had to rise to the occasion and prove to myself and the world that I did belong in the arena with all these other warriors!” she says, “ I won the fight in the fourth round by submission after a grueling back and forth battle. All my family was there and they brought my daughter into the cage and I was able to embrace her and my husband and take in the moment. It was beautiful.”
With a long list accomplishments and victories, Waterson says there are still some things that she has not done in her career which she hopes to achieve one day. She says that she would love to be a sports analyst for the UFC, in addition to being a part time Power Ranger and Princess, she jokingly reveals.
And as for what's next for the “Karate Hottie”? Waterson simply says that the sky's the limit. And through continuous hard work and dedication, she just wants to be the ultimate champion at not only fighting, but being a loving mother and wife as well.
Published December 2016, ABQ-Live