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UFC on FOX 24: After years of fighting in the shadows, Michelle Waterson eyes UFC gold in 2017

MMA: UFC Fight Night-VanZant vs Waterson-Weigh Ins Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Before the likes of Paige VanZant and Ronda Rousey hit the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene, Michelle Waterson had already started her caged combat career, making her professional debut in 2007 with a unanimous decision win against Andrea Miller.

Over the course of the next 10 years, women’s MMA burst onto the scene like never before thanks to the popularity and determination of the aforementioned Rousey, who ultimately convinced Dana White to give women a chance inside the Octagon.

Meanwhile, Waterson was still making a name for herself on the regional circuit, before ultimately joining Invicta FC in 2012, eventually winning the promotion’s Atomoweight title six months later. Three years after that, “The Karate Hottie” finally got her chance on the biggest MMA stage of them all, winning her first two bouts under the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) banner against Angela Magana and the aforementioned Paige VanZant.

For Waterson, though, her time came when it was supposed to and is thankful for all of the years she spent fighting in the shadows before getting all of the recent spotlight love.

“I’ve come to the realization that everyone has their own journey, and this is my journey. I am grateful to have had the experience in the shadows because it’s made me into the fighter I am today,” said Michelle during a recent interview on The MMA Hour.

Waterson’s popularity soared after choking out Paige at UFC on FOX 22 last December (see it), getting to attend Golden Globe parties and hanging out with the likes of Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys. For her, though, the best moment of the recent roller-coaster ride was when she learned news of winning a $50,000 bonus check for her “Performance of the Night” in Sacramento.

For Waterson, it was a reminder that all of her hard work was paying off, and that she was now able to contribute financially for her household. With a new deal expected to be signed soon, Waterson says UFC has her back, which means a bump in pay could be on the horizon, too. And though she would have loved a title shot after taking out UFC’s “it” girl, Waterson says she feels a win over Rose Namajunas at this weekend’s (Sat., April 15, 2017) UFC on FOX 24 event in Kansas City, Missouri, should be enough.

“We had talked about it and we were up for it if it happened, but I’m excited for whatever UFC wants to give me,” said Waterson. “I think Rose is an excellent matchup coming off a victory from Paige, who both of us fought. Rose is ranked higher than me, so if there is anybody I need to fight in order to show UFC that I’m ready for the title shot, Rose is a great opponent.”

While the promotion hasn’t dubbed her fight against Namajunas a title eliminator, “Karate Hottie” hopes a win over “Thug Rose” gets her to the big dance. And if she had her druthers, she’d like it to go down against current division champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

“That is my goal for 2017, is to fight for the title. I would like to be the first to (defeat Joanna) in UFC.

Of course, Joanna is booked to face Jessica Andrade in the co-main event of UFC 211 — which is set to go down on May 13 inside American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas — so she has to get through that challenge first, and Waterson has to take out Namajunas.

That said, the champ fancies a a showdown against “The Karate Hottie,” too.

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