Michelle Waterson just wants to get back to work.
Had everything played out as originally scheduled, Waterson would already be talking about how her fight with Carla Esparza went in Portland, Ore., three weeks ago. But like the rest of the world, the UFC’s plans for her were scrapped after the coronavirus outbreak led to the shutdown of almost every major sports and entertainment organization.
Waterson then thought she might fight Esparza at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, an idea that was soon ruled out due to increasing COVID-19 precautions. Then she wondered whether their bout could be moved to California, or UFC President Dana White’s proposed “Fight Island.”
After a while, she gave up on trying to guess where or when she was fighting, and she decided to stay ready and trust in White.
“Josh, my husband, just kind of had this feeling from all the things that Dana had been saying in the press conferences and stuff that he was gonna make something happen,” Waterson told MMA Fighting. “He just knows how persistent Dana is when he says something, that he means it, so he just made sure that I stayed in shape and stayed training. Our fight got pushed back and the fight with Khabib [Nurmagomedov] and [Tony] Ferguson was still on, so then we got pushed back to May and we weren’t sure where it was gonna be, if it was gonna be on the island, if it was gonna be in California, we had no idea.
“So we just kept training, and when the fight with Khabib and Ferguson got canceled, and then Khabib went out of the country, everything kind of was up in the air, I just stopped following along and kept my head down and I kept training. There’s no harm that can be done for me if I continue to train. The only harm that can be done to me is if I stop training, so we just kept training and we waited for the info to come through.”
Given the difficult circumstances that the fighters are being asked to perform under due to their training schedules being altered by the UFC’s shuffling of events and the risks they face traveling and competing amid the coronavirus pandemic, the question of whether they should receive any added compensation for their efforts is a relevant one.
Asked if she has been told whether she could receive extra hazard pay for making the trip to Jacksonville, Fla., on May 9 to fight Esparza at UFC 249, Waterson’s team hasn’t inquired about the possibility.
“We really haven’t asked that,” Waterson said. “I’m just honestly very grateful and appreciative that I still have the ability to fight and do what I love to do and make an income doing that. There are a lot of people out there that aren’t as fortunate, and I’m just happy about [being able to fight].
“You’ve just got to figure it out. We haven’t asked about any compensation or anything, I really am just grateful that I’m being put on this card. Who knows if the landscape of any type of sports arena is going to change after this, so I’m just soaking it in and taking advantage of the opportunity as it comes.”
There were no guarantees that Waterson’s fight would be re-booked anytime soon, especially since White and the UFC themselves were dealing with having to postpone or cancel several events beginning in March. As an athlete signed to multiple endorsement deals, Waterson realizes she’s fortunate to have sponsors to fall back on should her fight bookings be limited in the near future.
“I do feel like when all this stuff happened it is a time of uncertainty for a lot of people, especially fighters,” Waterson said. “We only get paid when we fight, and who knows when the next time we’re gonna fight is. It is nice to have a sponsor like BODYARMOR in my corner that has always been here for me, through the ups and the downs, I love that they’re in a partnership with me and we’re able to kind of represent each other and build a relationship stronger than just sponsorship athletes.
“I really do feel close with BODYARMOR in the sense that I know that they’re in my corner and they know that at this time with this epidemic going on is when I need to be able to lean in on them the most and they’re here.”
Coming off of a five-round decision loss to former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Waterson is eager to get back in the win column, especially against another former champion in Esparza.
One thing that would have made the experience even better would be if they had been scheduled for “Fight Island,” an opportunity that would have allowed Waterson to compete outside of the United States for the first time.
“I definitely was hoping that we would be fighting on Fight Island,” Waterson said. “I just think it would be an experience and something we could look back on and really enjoy talking about. It hasn’t happened, like I said I can only do what’s in my control. We’re fighting in Florida, I’m excited to go out there again, and who knows what the future holds?”