Before Michelle Waterson defended her Invicta FC atomweight title for the first time over Yasuko Tamada at Invicta FC 8, winning by third-round technical knockout, she hadn't fought in over a year and a half. Now, she is set to get back in the cage against Hereca Tiburcio to defend her belt for the second time in three months at Invicta FC 10 in Houston, Texas, on Friday (Dec. 5, 2014).
That's fine by the champion. She has endured some long layoffs before and said she prefers to stay active and is looking forward to the task.
"It was a quick turnaround for sure," Waterson told MMAmania.com. "It's a challenge to have back-to-back fights like this. I'm excited for the new challenge and I'm happy that Invicta is keeping me busy. When I had such a long layoff, I started to question whether or not I could continue to fight, especially being a mother. Shannon (Knapp) kept telling me everything was going to be great and here I am fighting again two months later."
Not only has Invicta kept her busy with her second fight since September, but she has become the face of the promotion, being featured in UFC Fight Pass commercials and heavily promoted since Invicta and the UFC reached a broadcast agreement to carry Invicta on the Fight Pass network. Invicta FC 10 will be the third fight card to stream on the UFC network and Waterson will headline for the second time. Originally, Cristiane Justino was going to headline, but "Cyborg" had to withdraw due to injury and Invicta called upon its top star to fill the void.
Known as the "Karate Hottie," the Colorado native has garnered plenty of attention before with her modeling career and appearances on the Fight Girls TV show on the Oxygen Network and in the Megadeth music video for the song "Head Crusher."
But as far as her MMA career goes, this is by far, the most she has ever received.
"It's been real nice," said Waterson on the newfound attention. "It's kind of something you have in mind when you go for the championship. You want that kind of attention, but I guess you don't realize everything what comes with it. You just want to be the best fighter and you don't realize all the media and all the attention that goes with it. But it is part of the job and I am enjoying it and whatever I can do represent Invicta in a positive light I am here to do it happily."
Waterson is now 12-3 and has won all three of her fights under the Invicta banner. Her Brazilian opponent, Tiburcio, is well versed in jiu-jitsu, and six of her eight career victories have come by way of submission.
"I know she has won the majority of her fights by submission," said Waterson. "So I know she is a go-getter as far as shooting for the finishes and I look forward to stopping her from doing so."
Waterson, 28, is no slouch on the ground, either. Yes, she is known for her striking pedigree, but she has seven submission wins to her credit; the last one an armbar victory over Jessica Penne at Invicta FC 5 for the Invicta atomweight title. Penne is currently in the semifinal round of the current season of The Ultimate Fighter.
"That is what I keep telling people," she said. "I'm not looking to take it to the ground, but I'm definitely not scared if it goes there."
"The Karate Hottie" has been as confident as ever and put on an impressive striking performance in her lopsided rout of Tamada at Invicta FC 8, seemingly landing at will and showcasing near-surgical precision throughout the bout. The seven-year veteran attributes that success to all the faith she has in her talent and utilizing it on fight night.
"I think the biggest part is, believing in myself, and my ability to actually go through with what I do in practice," Waterson said. "There are so many times when I am great in practice and hitting all my marks and when it comes to the fight I get a little bit hesitant. So, I think just believing in being a good fighter allows me to follow through with my technique."
Invicta has moved away from Kansas for this event and the last one, which was in Iowa. Waterson said Houston is a "cool city," and she is excited that the promotion is moving around to other cities now. "Hopefully we can appeal to other audiences," she said.
Riding a six-fight win streak and now the poster girl of Invicta, Waterson was asked if she is feeling extra weight or responsibility on her shoulders these days, since more eyes are now upon her and the all-female promotion.
"It's not pressure until people bring it up," she said laughing. "I try not to think of it as pressure. It's a big fight I guess. My goal is to get better and to overcome one more obstacle. That is how I look at it. Another day in the gym, another fight."
Waterson said her Thanksgiving was a "little chaotic," but she was able to have a good time with her family and she was even able to have some turkey, sweet potatoes and broccoli despite cutting weight for the Dec. 5 title fight.
The next obstacle after her fight against Tiburcio is going to be Christmas shopping for her three-year old daughter Araya, who she said wants "everything."
"We will be watching TV and she will say 'I want this. I want that,'" she laughs. "I'll say 'you want everything.' And she will say 'yep.'"
If she performs like she did against Tamada in her bout opposite Tiburcio, then Christmas shopping will be the only pressure she will be under.