Michelle Waterson has come too far to start looking backwards now.
“The Karate Hottie” has been a mainstay in the UFC’s top-10 since joining the promotion five years ago and recent wins over Angela Hill, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Felice Herrig, and Cortney Casey have her poised to earn her first UFC title shot.
To get there, Waterson is aware she still has to deal with the elite of the murderer’s row that is the strawweight division and she’s hoping her win over Hill at UFC Vegas 10 showed the matchmakers and fans that she’s still one to watch at 115 pounds.
“I tell people all the time the strawweight division’s the most stacked division of the female roster in the UFC,” Waterson said on a recent episode of What the Heck. “The girls just show up to fight. Not only are they full of heart and will and determination, but technically very sound fighters with amazing resumes even outside of the top-10. I’m constantly reminding people of that. And the girls are too. Anytime they’re slated to fight, they show up to fight.
“I did pull lots of inspiration after watching Joanna (Jedrzejczyk) and (Zhang) Weili being in that for five rounds and having that back and forth. I wanted to show people that I’m right there with them.”
Waterson fought Jedrzejczyk in October of last year, losing a five-round unanimous decision to the former champion. That bout was effectively a No. 1 contender’s bout as Jedrzejczyk went on to challenge Zhang at UFC 248 and produce one of the greatest title fights of all-time in a losing effort.
Having fought several ranked opponents already, it’s unclear what the path forward is for Waterson. All she knows is that she’s focused on improving her position as opposed to taking fights with up-and-comers.
“I want to take a fight that’s gonna get me closer to the belt,” Waterson said. “I’m not interested in anything else. It’s been kind of a crazy year and I’m staying ready. You never know what will happen. So we’ll see.”
One name that has been discussed as a potential opponent for Waterson is the fast-rising Mackenzie Dern. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace has impressed with back-to-back first-round submission victories in 2020 and a 4-1 mark in the UFC so far.
However, given her relative inexperience, Dern isn’t on Waterson’s radar at the moment.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Waterson said when Dern was suggested as a potential opponent. “I think I’m at a different spot in terms of how close I am to the belt versus where she’s at. And that’s no jab at her, she’s been doing amazing, she’s an amazing jiu-jitsu player and has been able to utilize her skills to get her where she’s at now. I do think that I’m in a different spot than she is.”
Waterson isn’t sure whether she will fight once more before the end of the year or if she will aim for a booking in early 2021. She’s certain that her next opponent should be another name in the top-10 though, even as she makes note of the hungry strawweights looking to take her spot.
“It is motivating,” Waterson said. “I always tell people that you can’t just keep your eye on the top-10 of the division because these girls that the UFC are signing already come with a very, very impressive resume and they’re hungry to get to the top and the faster they get to the top, that’s their ultimate goal.
“I always tell people it’s like the Highlander, ‘There can be only one.’ (laughs) We’ll see, we’ll see what happens. I’m super close and so my focus is the top. Obviously, you always have to check your back and make sure that nobody’s coming from behind to sneak you one, but my eye’s on the prize ahead of me.”