Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Strawweight scrappers Michelle Waterson and Cortney Casey will duel this Saturday (April 14, 2018) at UFC on FOX 29 inside Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Waterson’s start to her UFC career couldn’t have been much better — she was able to implement her grappling skills to overcome clear size disadvantages and pick up finish victories. Those submissions raised her into the position of contender, but she suffered setbacks once facing actually elite competition. Meanwhile, Casey thus far seems like a fighter yet to live up to her potential. Though she won a pair of “Fight of the Night” bonuses and picked up some ranked wins, Casey is still just 3-4 inside the Octagon despite obvious skill and physical abilities.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:
Key Wins: Paige VanZant (UFC on FOX 22), Jessica Penne (Invicta FC 5), Angela Magana (TUF 22 Finale), Yasuko Tamada (Invicta FC 8)
Key Losses: Rose Namajunas (UFC on FOX 24), Tecia Torres (UFC 218), Herica Tiburcio (Invicta FC 10)
Keys to Victory: Waterson is known as “The Karate Hottie” and holds a black belt in American Freestyle Karate, but kickboxing is generally a smaller part of her game. Instead, Waterson packs some surprisingly effective clinch throws, and she’s a very solid grappler once on the mat. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to work opposite Casey, who will dwarf the former Atomweight. Getting in close with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt is likely to land Waterson on her back, where she’s far from helpless, but that is not ideal either.
Instead, Waterson should rely on that Karate background. Waterson is the faster woman in terms of hand speed and especially foot speed. Casey sometimes looks a bit stuck in the mud — look no further than her last fight with Felice Herrig, in which Joe Rogan repeatedly questioned why neither woman did more than stand in place and pick shots. If Waterson is utilizing in-and-out movement and actively avoiding the clinch rather than seeking it, there’s a very real chance she picks Casey apart.
Key Wins: Jessica Aguilar (UFC 211), Randa Markos (UFC 202),
Key Losses: Felice Herrig (UFC 218), Claudia Gadelha (UFC Fight Night 100)
Keys to Victory: Casey is an imposing athlete at 115 pounds and has a strong grappling background. Despite her jiu-jitsu skill, Casey often looks to brawl, where she is still effective, but less dominant.
All Casey has to do to turn this fight into her favor is make it ugly. If she tries to kickbox with Waterson, there’s plenty of potential for Casey to lose yet another close decision. That’s not to say Casey cannot strike with Waterson, but there’s no reason not to make use of her size and toughness.
Casey should be trying to punch into the clinch. That’s a position where Waterson’s speed advantage is rendered unimportant, whereas Casey’s strength will reign supreme. Furthermore, Casey can either initiate the takedown or look to counter Waterson’s head-and-arm throw. Either way, she stands a good chance at landing top position, which is where she does her best work.
Short and sweet: Be aggressive, close the distance and wear down the smaller athlete.
Bottom Line: It should be a fun and competitive match up between fringe contenders.
After her last two losses, Waterson needs a victory to remain relevant at 115 pounds. She won’t be released or even in danger with a defeat — Waterson is too popular and too good for that. But, if she’s unable to at least occasionally win higher level fights like this, UFC will stop booking her on the main card of bigger shows.
A win doesn’t return her to the title mix, but it’s a start, and it keeps her comfortably in UFC’s good graces.
The stakes are fairly high for Casey as well. Had the split-decision gone her way opposite Herrig, there would be no “fringe” next to the word contender. As it is, though, Casey has lost two of her last three bouts, and she really needs to impose her game on Waterson. If Casey comes in without a gameplan and lets Waterson play with the range, the close decision loss will be no one’s fault but her own, and it will completely stall any forward momentum she has.
The bright side is that Waterson definitely still has name value as a highly ranked athlete and former Invicta FC champ. If Casey can add another impressive name to her resume, it will go a long way in pushing her to the Top 10.
At UFC on FOX 29, Michelle Waterson and Cortney Casey will square off. Which fighter will earn the victory?