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Mike Winkeljohn says ‘genius’ Michelle Waterson worked on switching stances in camp

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UFC on FOX 22 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was supposed to be a nationally televised showcase fight for Paige VanZant in her stomping grounds of Sacramento, but UFC on FOX 22 ended up being a coming out party for Michelle Waterson. The “Karate Hottie” put VanZant away with a rear-naked choke a little over midway through the first round to win her first fight in a year-and-a-half, and just her second UFC fight ever.

If the fight reminded us about anything, it’s that you should never sleep on a Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter, because they always show up offering more than you’re expecting.

Waterson’s longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn said he believed she would have a good showing in Sacramento, but he didn’t expect her to go through VanZant quite so easily.

“No, not dominant, but I was confident she could win the fight, no doubt about it,” he said during an appearance on The MMA Hour. “I believe in Michelle’s skills. I mean, she’s…I felt like she was more technical everywhere. And she knows how to win. That’s just how it is, she knows how to win. She had the one loss defending her title, but that was a game of inches of one punch. She slipped on a kick and got hit with one punch. That was basically it, and it changed the whole fight. She’s that good.”

Waterson’s only loss in the last seven years came against Herica Tiburcio back in Dec. 2014, when she was defending the Invicta FC atomweight title. She lost via a third-round guillotine choke. Other than that she has been great, going 8-1 with finishes over Jessica Penne (armbar), Yasuko Tamada (TKO) and — in her UFC debut — against Angela Magana (rear-naked choke).

In this Waterson said she thought she bewildered VanZant by switching stances and letting her kicks fly. That was part of the game plan, according to Winkeljohn.

“Yeah, it comes from — honestly, I won’t lie — Michelle broke her hand again in [the Aisling Daly] camp early on, and so I said, well, I’m going to do what I do with Holly,” he said. “Let’s just start going back to our kicks a little bit. And Michelle’s so good, from both sides, but from that southpaw stance she can really side kick people and hurt them.”

He said the nice thing was that nobody had scouted it before.

“And I figured Paige, I really thought Paige was coming hard. She didn’t, and at the moment I was thinking, okay, she’s not coming hard, she’s going to take some time. It didn’t dawn on me that she was probably hesitating, and the other coach’s were saying yeah, you could see it on her face, she was trying to figure it out. I was just enthralled with her footwork trying to figure out why she’s not coming. But I think that played a little bit.”

Though Waterson has had a hard time staying healthy, Winkeljohn said she came out of the VanZant fight unscathed. With her emerging in near mint condition — and the overall virtuoso performance — he said things came out about as good as he could have hoped on such a big stage.

“She did get hit once after she hammered Paige with a good right hand that she stepped down into,” he said. “But then she kind of threw it a little bit off balance and Paige touched her, but I mean, I’m talking about just touched her. I think it was pretty much a dominant performance that everything we’d worked on, and everything the coaches worked on…the guys we had that worked with her in the corner were just brilliant, every single thing they did, it was amazing to watch, it was like scripted. And Michelle did everything. She’s a genius in there.”

Asked what he thinks is next for Waterson, Winkeljohn said she would accept any fight the UFC proposed, and that at this point she was highly marketable.

“I think she’s one fight out from a title shot,” he said. “I really do. I think she’s right there. One fight and then get a title shot.”