Michelle Waterson pushed her way to the top of the female atomweight division earlier this year when he submitted Jessica Penne in the main event of Invicta FC 5.
Now, Waterson must sit and wait for her first title defense – something that nearly came at tonight’s Invicta FC 7 card.
“I was suppose to be on the card, but the matchups didn’t lineup,” said Waterson, during an interview with FightLine. “It hasn’t been my decision (to not fight since April). I would have liked to have had a fight before the year was up, bu that is how the game goes sometimes.
“Hopefully, I will be fighting at the beginning of next year for the next Invicta card.”
Waterson joked that she is only “penciled in” because she has learned things can change rather quickly in the world of MMA.
While she doesn’t know who she might face next, Penne is not an option at this point.
“I’m definitely interested in a top contender, and not really interested in fighting Penne again at the moment,” she said. “I know she is ranked No. 2, but I would like to fight somebody else before I have to fight her again.”
“Karate Hottie” reflects on title-win
The victory over Penne was “one of the most memorable nights of my life,” said Waterson.
After going at it for over 15 minutes, Waterson caught Penne in an armbar, scoring the fourth round submission. It was the seventh such victory in her career, pushing her overall record to 11-3 and giving her a four-fight win streak.
“I felt like I needed to stay in the zone to win the fight,” she said. “I had to believe in my abilities, my coaches and all the hard work I had put in to show everybody what I had to offer to the sport.
“I stayed mentally strong. The first round was back-and-forth, but I felt like I had won that. The second felt like I was able to capitalize on my top game and I think that pissed her off a little bit. She came out in the third trying to take my head off; and pretty much did that.”
An armbar that Penne locked in nearly ended the match, but Waterson believes her ability to survive that move flustered the then-champion.
“Going back to my corner, surviving her armbar, I was pretty much feeling that I had all the confidence in the world in myself,” Waterson stated. “There was no submissions she could catch me with and I went into the fourth with that mindset. I was trying to take her back when I saw the opportunity to take the arm and I did.
“I think I was able to break her mentally. She is a very mental fighter and she has had success in the past with pushing her opponent back. Once she realized I was pushing back with her, I think it broke her down a little bit.”
Rise of Invicta FC helped by UFC pushing female fighters
Waterson feels everything has gone “hand-in-hand” when it comes to the rise of female MMA today.
The UFC is coming off a season of The Ultimate Fighter that featured women for the first time. The most memorable fights consisted of the females, and Waterson took note.
“I was very proud of all the women on the show,” she said, a constantly follower of the season. “I thought they represented us as athletes very well. They out-shined the boys there, making weight and all that stuff; it was a very special season and I think that came across on the TV very well.”
In for a busy stretch of MMA watching
Waterson had two teammates compete Friday night in Julie Kedzie at UFC Fight Night 33 and Holly Holm at a local show. That, coupled with the Invicta FC 7 event, has her weekend plans pretty well set.
“It is going to be a crazy weekend.The Invicta card is totally stacked and I don’t think there is one fight I am not excited to see.
“They are all great matchups and it is going to be hard for (Invicta FC president) Shannon (Knapp) to pick ‘Fight of the Night.’ All of them are going to bring it.”
Continuing growth at Jackson’s MMA
Waterson is a member of Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico alongside the likes of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Carlos Condit and others. After her win, she took a few months off, but quickly got back after it.
“I have been in the gym training because now that I have the belt, I feel like I have a target on me, everybody is gunning for me,” Waterson said. “I feel like there is no room for me to slack because I have to continually try to improve myself as a fighter.”
She admitted that one of her training goals involves “putting on some good muscle,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean a move back to 115 pounds.
Atomweight remains the proving ground
The UFC has hinted at plans to bring in a group of fighters to comprise a strawweight division, adding to the bantamweight female division currently in play.
As a former member of the 115-pound class, Waterson knows it is a different league up there.
“I started my career at 115 and I was smaller (at that time) than I am now,” she said. “I still feel like there’s a lot for me to do at 105. Even though I beat Jessica, a lot of people are still doubting my abilities as a fighter.
“I have all these weapons, but half the time, I don’t get to show them. That’s frustrating, but it’s how fights go; you can’t predict what is going to happen.”
She posted on Twitter after news of the UFC’s report came about that she was happy in Invicta with Knapp and company. But, is there a piece of Waterson that remains interested in fighting inside the world-famous Octagon?
“Invicta has done nothing but great things for me. Is it a dream of mine to fight in the UFC? I think it’s every fighters dream….but I can’t get ahead of myself and look that far ahead in the future.
I have a lot of things to think about if I decide to take that step.”
Waterson added that she prefers to keep talk of a weight-division change “in the hands of my coaches. If I leave it up to them, I can rest easier at night.”
You can keep tabs on Waterson via Twitter.
Front-Page Photo Credit: Esther Lin/Invicta FC