When Michelle "The Karate Hottie" Waterson raised her hands in victory on Saturday night after defeating Paige VanZant with a first round rear naked choke, it marked the end of a long personal journey for the 30-year-old strawweight. Saturday’s fight was Waterson’s first after a year and half marred by injury.
After opening up her UFC career with a submission win over Angela Magana, Waterson pulled out of UFC 194 in December with a knee injury. A couple months later, she broke her hand. Finally healthy, Waterson returned to the cage Saturday and any worries about ring rust were quickly dispelled.
Waterson dominated the fight, taking VanZant to the mat quickly and then latching on to her back before putting her to sleep.
Waterson was ranked 11th in the strawweight division coming into the fight, but she’s sure to improve on that once the UFC updates things. Her next fight could come against fourth ranked strawweight Rose Namajunas, who’s already issued a challenge.
If Waterson wins that, a title shot may not be far off. And if she won that, it wouldn’t be her first championship. Before coming over to the UFC in 2015, Waterson was the Invicta champ at 105 pounds. She held on the promotion’s Atomweight belt for 609 days, defending it once by knocking out Yasuko Tamada.
Waterson’s fight skills only tell half of the story though. Her nickname, The Karate Hottie, captures the rest. Like VanZant, Waterson is a looker and the UFC knows it.
Don’t be surprised if she’s the next fighter to get a promotional push like the ones that makes sure PVZ is never off the front page of the many MMA websites for long. Not that you'll be complaining.