At the end of the third round Friday night, Jessica Penne looked well on her way to retaining her Invicta atomweight championship.
Penne and Waterson went back and forth over a well-contested opening two rounds before Penne dominated her opponent from bell to bell in a 10-8 third round and nearly finished her with an armbar.
Waterson, though, managed to hang on until the end of the round. Then the "Karate Hottie" stunned Penne in the fourth, making her tap to an armbar at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City and claiming the crown. The victory capped an memorable Invicta FC 5 card which also featured the crowning of the first flyweight champion in company history in Barb Honchak.
"You just can't quit, even when you feel like you can't go on," said a sobbing Waterson (11-3) after the fight. "She almost got me in the third and I just told myself to keep going. She's a f------ awesome fighter and she has so much heart, so I want to take her for taking the fight and making my dreams come true."
Penne (10-2), who won the inaugural Invicta 105-pound title in October, got the edge in a tight close first round, dictating the tempo and fending off several submissions attempted by Waterson off her back.
By round two, it was clear the bout was becoming a back-and-forth tactical fight. In the second stanza, Waterson, a Jackson's MMA fighter, got the best of the scrambles and the positional battle on the ground, though she didn't come close to finishing the fight.
Round three was all Penne, as she came out firing, dropped Waterson early, and unleashed a furious ground-and-pound assault. Waterson managed to ride out the storm, and also somehow managed to escape a deep Penne armbar, though at one point Waterson appeared ready to tap.
The final round was back and forth right up until the moment Waterson (10-3) managed to move into position for the finishing armbar, which caused Penne to tap immediately at 2:31.
"You just really gotta believe in yourself and don't let nobody take that away from you," Waterson said. "You definitely gotta believe the hype."
In the bout to determine Invicta's first 125-pound champion, Honchak brought championship gold back to the legendary Miletich Fighting System camp in Bettendorf, Iowa after grinding out a victory over Vanessa Porto.
Honchak has a solid wrestling game, and Sao Paolo's Porto has a jiu-jitsu background, and it appeared the respect the two had for one another's strengths led to a standoff. As a result, most of the bout was fought standing, and while Porto occasionally landed harder shots, Honchak landed in volume and dictated the flow of the fight.
Judges' scores were 50-45, 49-46, and 48-47 for Honchak (8-2), who won her seventh fight in a row. Porto dropped to 15-6.
"Give it up for Porto, she was such a great opponent," Honchak said. "She gave me a real battle. I'm glad to be bringing the belt back to Miletich Fighting Systems."