clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Losing Invicta title helped open up gateway to UFC for Michelle Waterson

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Maybe if Michelle Waterson retained her title back in December, she would have re-signed with Invicta. Maybe not. But either way, losing the Invicta women's atomweight title caused her to re-evaluate her place in the sport.

"I feel like everything happens for a reason," Waterson told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "Losing the belt gave me time to kind of think about my MMA career and what I really wanted to do in these next couple of years."

Waterson essentially made the choice to test the free-agent waters in January and had been in talks with the UFC since then before her signing was made official last week, as reported by Helwani on UFC Tonight. "The Karate Hottie" will move back up to strawweight and face Angela Magana in her UFC debut at the Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale on July 12 in Florida.

Waterson said her contract with Invicta ran out after she retained her title against Yasuko Tamada in September. But when Cris Cyborg got injured and had to pull out of Invicta FC 10 with an injury, Invicta FC president Shannon Knapp called Waterson to help save the December card. Waterson agreed, signed a one-fight extension and fought Tiburcio in the main event. She admits that had she won, she might have signed a long-term extension with Invicta.

Instead, Waterson lost and did some soul searching. She made the decision that she'd rather spend the next couple of years taking on a new challenge in the UFC rather than chasing after the belt in Invicta again.

"It's always been a goal of mine," Waterson said of fighting in the UFC. "A lot of the women, I don't think we would imagine this day would come, because for a long time [UFC president] Dana White just didn't think women belonged in the UFC."

Those days seem so long ago now. Women have been in the UFC for more than two years and one of them -- Ronda Rousey -- is the company's biggest star. The UFC started a strawweight division last year and Waterson, arguably Invicta's biggest draw, has a chance to carve out an important spot in it.

Waterson (12-4) has fought at 115 before, but has had most of her success at 105. The 29-year-old won six in a row at atomweight, including a title victory over current UFC strawweight Jessica Penne in 2013. But Waterson thinks the time is right for her to move up in weight. It certainly helps that the UFC doesn't have an atomweight division.

"I don't think I would take the job unless I had the confidence in myself to do so," Waterson said. "I feel comfortable there. I'm older now than I was back then. Older, wiser and actually bigger now than I was back then when I was fighting at 115. I think it's a good move. I'm able to eat very well and healthy and have energy and I'm excited for the move."

The Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA product is also excited for the fight against Magana, though she believes Octagon jitters are a real thing. Waterson said she didn't feel like herself when she lost the Invicta title to Herica Tiburcio in December by third-round submission.

"I just need to keep it together and get in there and just fight, be present," she said. "I feel like a huge part of why I lost my last fight is because I almost felt like a spectator. It was real strange. But you live and you learn and I definitely learned a lot from that loss."

Waterson's eye was busted up from a Tiburcio punch and in the locker room she had to face her 4-year-old daughter Araya afterward. Araya was upset, because she saw her mom get hurt, but Waterson didn't want her daughter to see her cry.

"I pulled her in before she could see me crying," Waterson said, "and just told her, 'Mommy is OK. Things happen. You have to learn from your mistakes and get better.' That was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do is not cry."

Waterson is feeling way better now. For her, she said it's the right move at the right time.

"For me to let it slip through my fingers the way I did, I was really down on myself," Waterson said. "It took awhile for me until I realized I could let this bring me down or just brush my shoulders off and move forward. And that's what I did in the beginning of the year."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting