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UFC 249 Esparza v Waterson Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 10’s Michelle Waterson

Former Invicta Atomweight queen, Michelle Waterson, will scrap with striking specialist, Angela Hill, this Saturday (Sept. 12, 2020) at UFC Vegas 10 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Look, no one asked for this main event.

Hill and Waterson will step up on short-notice and accept the challenge of an unexpected five-round fight. For Waterson, it’s an unexpected one, coming on the heels of consecutive defeats. “Karate Hottie” will attempt to rebound in a big way, as she can return to the win column and title picture with a victory in her third main event slot.

Let’s take a closer look at her skill set:

Striking

A long-time trainee of the Jackson-Winkeljohn Academy, Waterson has a background in Karate, which melds to make up a rangy kickboxing style.

Waterson’s movement and style of range control is interesting. She likes to strike from the outside and draw her opponent forward, which often results in a lot of side-shuffling. At times, however, Waterson is also willing to simply plant her feet and wait, trusting herself to land a counter as they come in.

Waterson is primarily a kicker. On the outside, she does a lot of foot replacement into kicks. Usually from the Orthodox stance, Waterson brings her back font to her front leg’s position, taking the weight off her lead leg and allowing it to be thrown in a variety of kicks. The foot replacement is quick and covers distance, often giving Waterson the edge when initiating kicking exchanges. From this initial set up, Waterson can throw a lot of techniques. Most often, she’ll attack with a quick low kick, but that left leg can also be aimed at the mid-section, be delivered in a straight line to the knee, or fly up to the chin. Later, Waterson will foot replace and then step forward with her left foot, allowing her to throw a hard right low kick.

UFC Fight Night: VanZant v Waterson Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It all adds up to be pretty tricky and help keep Waterson ahead on points while at range.

In truth, Waterson is not much of a boxer. When she does land punches, it’s largely one stiff jab or overhand as her opponent steps forward and Waterson takes her head off the center line. Often, Waterson is punching to maintain distance. She pumps out the jab frequently, even if she’s almost definitely going to come up short, with the intent of putting something in her opponent’s path. She’ll follow up with a cross occasionally, and Waterson often sticks to these straight shots.

Waterson really likes to fight as a counter striker, but she’ll sometimes go on the offensive to set up a kick. For example, she will flash a jab or hook in order to step outside of her opponent’s lead leg, which puts her in good position to kick the leg or jam a side kick into her opponent’s belly.

In addition, Waterson will often attack with naked kicks. She throws a lot of front and sudden high kicks, which are pretty difficult to counter or catch. Similar kicks up the middle like side and ax kicks will make their way into her game as well, and they all serve the purpose of being a range keeping weapon ... even if that ax kick doesn’t ever seem to land.

On the whole, “The Karate Hottie” does her best work when her opponent initiates without really pressuring her. Whenever her opponent looks to shoot out a jab or lead with a power punch, for example, Waterson does an excellent job of skipping back a half-step and jamming a kick into the mid-section. She can kick quickly with either leg (GIF) and often aims to kick under the punch, which is quite painful and tiring.

UFC 249 Ferguson v Gaethje Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

In addition, Waterson has a unique habit of double-kicking when her opponent pressures. Sometimes, the first kick will stop her opponent’s movement — like a side kick or teep — and the second will be a round house. Other times, she’ll fire two round house kicks in a row, landing with one leg and then immediately attacking with the other.

Waterson’s problems arise when an opponent is consistently able to find her way into the pocket and force longer boxing exchanges. In addition, Rose Namajunas managed to hurt Waterson badly after side-stepping one her side kicks, taking a hugely advantageous angle and blasting her with a high kick.

Wrestling

Over the last few years, Waterson has consistently out-wrestled most of her opponents. Some of those women, like Courtney Casey, were much larger than Waterson, but that didn’t stop her from throwing her to the mat and winning the fight due to her top position.

Like many of her peers, Waterson likes the headlock throw. Unlike most of them, she’s actually good at it, because she actually does it properly. Very often, female fighters fail to properly dig underhooks, instead reaching for the head and leaving themselves open to counter takedowns. Waterson, however, will instead quickly shift her hand position from the over-under, wrapped around the head and forcing her for over the hip (GIF).

The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Magana v Waterson Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Waterson will also level change into more traditional takedowns. For example, she did score a very nice high-crotch dump on Karolina Kowalkiewicz, denying Kowalkiewicz’s attempt at hitting a switch by jumping across the body well. In addition, Waterson even managed to land a couple brief takedowns on Joanna Jedrzejczyk by hooking the leg as she drove into the takedown.

Early on, Waterson had more of an issue with getting out-muscled in the clinch. As she’s grown into the 115-pound weight class, that’s become less of a problem.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

UFC Fight Night: Kowalkiewicz v Waterson Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Waterson is a jiu-jitsu purple belt and has scored nine of her victories via submission. She’s very solid on the ground both offensively and defensively, and she’s quick to lock in the finish if given an opportunity.

“The Karate Hottie” makes the most of her flexibility by attacking with high and rubber guard. From these positions, she’s very quickly able to rotate and attack the arm bar. Opposite Kowalkiewicz, Waterson used her flexibility to attack the armbar smoothly from top position. First, she slid her knee halfway across the stomach from side control, threatening the mount. Rather than complete the mount, she framed her opponent’s face into the mat and slid her other leg across the face, allowing her to latch onto the arm and fall back into the hold.

UFC Fight Night: VanZant v Waterson Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Aside from the arm bar, Waterson has shown solid technique in other areas. She’s very quick to step into mount during scrambles and after hip tosses, and she is able to control the position well by grape-vining her opponent’s legs. This eventually allows her to transition into back mount, which helps explain her four rear-naked choke victories.

In one slick example of Waterson’s grappling, she used a rolling kneebar to reverse Herica Tiburcio. Tiburcio had slid into the back clinch and was muscling Waterson around, but the Colorado-native quickly dove forward and wrapped up her foe’s leg. Tiburcio nearly fell on her face, and Waterson was able to climb into top position before she recovered.

Conclusion

Waterson is currently on the outside of the title picture looking in. However, she’s only really lost to top contenders at 115 pounds. If “Karate Hottie” is able to return here, it could be the start of a win streak that returns her to relevancy.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 10 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 10: “Waterson vs. Hill” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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