For anyone still wondering why Michelle Waterson couldn’t be at UFC 257, it’s because she was focused on being where she had to be for the people she loved the most.
Waterson bowed out of a fight against Amanda Ribas this past January and at the time the reasons were undisclosed. It was the first time in five years that Waterson withdrew from a scheduled booking and she said later in an interview on Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette that it was due to ‘family issues.’
Four months later, Waterson is able to open up a little more on the circumstances of that withdrawal as she prepares to fight Marina Rodriguez this Saturday in the flyweight main event of UFC Vegas 26 at UFC APEX.
“We lost our grandparents, both of them within a week of each other and it was just really hard for the family,” Waterson told MMA Fighting. “They were really pillars of the family and for us it was important to be there for family. To be able to grieve properly for them. It’s why we decided to not continue with the fight.”
Family is everything to Waterson, her husband Joshua, and their 10-year-old daughter Araya. While Waterson had kept the family loss private until now, she doesn’t shy away from sharing snippets of her life or from discussing difficult topics.
One issue that she addressed is the recent rash of hate crimes targeting Asians in North America. Having been born in Colorado to a Thai mother and an American father, Waterson is familiar with racial dynamics on a personal level, and it’s been painful for her to see the violence that has prompted some to battle back with a cry of “Stop Asian Hate.”
“It breaks my heart, I think more so because I am bi-racial,” Waterson said. “More so than it being just Asian hate crimes exist, I think society in general has gotten away from the humanity of their neighbors. I think that we need to have a reality check and take a look at our neighbors, at the people that are in our lives or not even in our lives, that are bystanders, that are bypassers, and remember that they are human.
“I think a lot of the times, especially within this year, everyone being covered up, being sheltered, being kind of separated, it put everyone on the defense. It put everyone in this mode of fear. It put everyone in this mode of hate and we lost connection with each other. I think that’s the most important thing that we have to get back to. Pull away the masks, take a look into my eyes, see that I’m a human, see that all of us that we’re more alike than we are different.”
Even though Waterson has been involved in some form of fighting for over 20 years and it’s her job to beat people up inside of a cage, it’s the “A” in MMA that she prefers to emphasize.
“The model that my dad used to always teach me growing up is ‘treat other people the way you want to be treated,’” Waterson continued. “I’ve lived by that my entire life. And with that being said, I also feel like martial arts gave me confidence. Martial arts gave me a voice. Martial arts allowed me to stand up for myself when at times I felt like I wasn’t strong enough to do so. So I’ve always been a huge advocate of everybody getting out there and doing some type of martial arts.
“Can you imagine if everyone knew martial arts, the amount of bullying and hate that would get knocked down, because you know as a martial artist that there’s always somebody out there bigger and badder than you and it really does humble you.”
When it comes to protecting her family, Waterson tries not to worry too much. After all, her mother (lovingly referred to as “Master Yai Yai”) can take care of herself according to Waterson, and her daughter grew up with the martial arts lifestyle and the eclectic cast of characters that mom deals with on a daily basis.
Still, she cautions everyone in her community to look out for themselves and each other.
“It is scary,” Waterson said. “My mom, she lives on her own, but I’ve got a pretty hardcore Asian mom. I feel sorry for the person that tries to mess with her, she would go after ‘em. But I think situational awareness is super vital and it’s really sad to say that in our own communities that we have to have situational awareness. But I tell people all this time, I’d rather be a warrior in the garden than a gardener at war. I’d rather be prepared and ready for the worst than if something were to really happen and I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready for this situation.
“With my daughter, she doesn’t see color. She’s all love and she will be your friend because of your character and I think that’s how we should all proceed in life.”