She wasn't just an underdog. She was the second biggest underdog on the entire card. Only Fiona Muxlow, who Cris Cyborg was -3000 (bet $3000 to win $100) favored to beat, was further down the totem pole.
And why not? Waterson had put on a scrappy performance in her invicta debut in 2012, but she had barely squeaked by Lacey Schuckman, who, no offense, couldn't hold Penne's bootstraps.
But "The Karate Hottie" had an entire team at Jackson's MMA who believed in her and she bought in. Despite being down on the scorecards heading into the fourth round against Penne, she never gave up and wouldn't you know it, but Waterson was able to throw her legs up and catch the champ in an armbar to force a tap and win the title.
Waterson made a guest appearance on Bloody Elbow Radio earlier this week to talk about her thrilling come-from-behind victory, battling her mental demons and explained the vast improvement in her ground game in this interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you initially won the Invicta atomweight title last Friday night, you were just overwhelmed with emotion. Can you take me back to that moment because I'm always such a sucker for fighters revealing so much in moments like that?
Michelle Waterson: You know, I just felt like I was climbing up a huge mountain and at some points in my camp I felt like I was running in quicksand and not getting any where. There were a lot of people counting me out and not giving me the time of day and I was fighting a lot of demons. When I won, it was just like everything had paid off, it was so overwhelming and I had something to show for all the hard work I'd put in.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mention fighting demons, what do you mean by that?
Michelle Waterson: I just felt like in fighting, you're not only fighting your opponent but you're also fighting yourself. There's all this self doubt that you have. "Are you good enough to be the champ? Is what everyone else saying true? Should you be a fighter? You're a mom!" There's the demons and the angels talking to you and it's hard not to listen to those, hard not to listen to the social media. You really have to stay focused and believe in yourself. I kept telling myself, "You can. You can, Michelle. This is not out of your reach. You can work hard and do it," and I did.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You actually overcame quite a bit of adversity in this fight. The first two rounds were evenly matched but the third round was very one-sided in Jessica Penne's favor. She was in complete control, dropping heavy punches, had back control and many scored it a 10-8 round. How did you bounce back from that moment?
Michelle Waterson: I just kept telling myself to move. It's one of those things where, before the fight, Big John was telling us if it's the championship rounds and you start to drown, he'll stop the fight. Coach Wink told John that I'm a good swimmer so I just tried to keep my head above water during that. I kept telling myself it's not over, I've still got another round to regroup myself so I just had to survive.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your ground game improved by leaps and bounds for this fight because Jessica Penne is no joke on the canvas. She's probably the scariest female atomweight in the world when it comes to submission in MMA, but you were holding your own with her. Can you talk about the work you put in to take your ground game to the next level during your camp?
Michelle Waterson: Coach Jackson, he's very good about breaking things down and looking at things not just for jiu-jitsu but for MMA. He worked a lot for this camp to string things in combination on the ground just like if you were on the feet. It was a really big help for me because before I would just do the one submission attempt and I'd be done with it and this time I tried to take the back, have the Kimura into the armbar and string the submissions together. That really helped me out. I also did some gi work at Gracie Barra here in Albuquerque so that helped me out a lot too.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about the finish. You threw up several submission in the first two rounds but none of them were that close but then in the fourth round, you caught her during a transition and forced the tap. What made that last submission so much better than the others?
Michelle Waterson: I think it was just the culmination of several things. We were scrambling and I don't think she was expecting it. She thought I was going to keep trying to take her back and she was focused on trying to maintain top position and it caught her off guard. Coach Jackson kept yelling from the corner for me to climb, to get my hips up and I subconsciously did it because he told me to and "Bam!" there it was.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): After you won the title, you were hugging everyone in the entire cage, the ref, the cutman, the ringside physician. How many people did you end up hugging?
Michelle Waterson: (laughs) Oh god, i don't even remember. I just wanted to give everyone some love!
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now I have to finish by asking about something that was extremely important, your outfit. You were wearing the crazy striped Shinya Aoki-esque tights. What was the reasoning for that because people were bringing it up on Twitter.
Michelle Waterson: Oh gees. I've never been one to care much about what I wear but I figured this time, I'm fighting for the belt, I'm in the main event. Let's do something cool, let's get creative. I'd been working with this guy and he does custom work and he did an awesome job creating a custom outfit for me but the problem was it was three sizes too big and it came in a little late. I was able to still fit into the pants, they weren't supposed to be that long but at the last minute, I had to get an Under Armor and sew on a bunch of sponsors for my top. So that's the story behind the outfit. (laughs)