Michelle Waterson explains how she balances fight life with her newfound star status
Michelle Waterson is no stranger to the spotlight but everything is a little brighter when it comes to the UFC.
Throughout her mixed martial arts career, Waterson has enjoyed more attention than most fighters after appearing on a reality series called "Fight Girls" while also dropping by the MTV show "Bully Beatdown" as well as a spot on "American Ninja Warrior" and this all happened long before the UFC came calling.
Still, Waterson couldn't have predicted what a win over Paige VanZant would do for her career after millions tuned in to watch the main event last December from Sacramento. Shortly after the fight, Waterson signed on with an agent at WME-IMG, who also happen to be the owners of the UFC, as she began exploring options outside of fighting like acting, modeling and even the potential to write a book.
It's been a meteoric rise to fame in a very short amount of time, but Waterson says she's managed to stay grounded through it all thanks to the people she's chosen to keep closest to her.
"I think that's the only thing you can do is embrace it because otherwise you get overwhelmed with everything that's going on," Waterson told the Fight Society podcast about her recent rise to fame. "I think just being a mom has kind of made me understand how to multi-task already but I have great role models here at the gym. Holly Holm, Donald Cerrone, Jon Jones, these guys are household names and they come in here and they are just normal people.
"I look up to them and I try to model myself after them."
As much as Waterson is excited to embrace the opportunities outside the cage, she never loses sight of what got her in the spotlight in the first place.
Waterson is a fighter and outside of spending time with her husband and daughter, nothing else takes priority when she's getting ready to step into the cage.
"It's not something to be taken lightly either because going into the fight you have to be 100-percent there," Waterson explained. "Not just physically but mentally, spiritually, emotionally, it takes a lot of energy to get there on fight day. So you just have to make sure that you stay grounded and that you have your priorities set so that there are things that you might not want to turn down but eventually you will have to because you have to know what your priorities are."
"Fighting comes first. I was a martial artist since I was 10 years old and I'll always be a martial artist. Once I'm done fighting, once everything else is done, I'll still be a martial artist. That's just what I've tried to embrace lately is that every day I come into the gym, I learn something new and it's exciting and it's fun because I'm a student of the game."
Following the win over VanZant this past December, Waterson knew that she was going to be a popular pick amongst other strawweight contenders who wanted to make a name for themselves by facing her.
It didn't take long for Waterson to hear her named mentioned by several fighters, but the name at the top of the list that intrigued her the most was Rose Namajunas.
A former "Ultimate Fighter" finalist and UFC title contender, Namajunas has been near the top of the division since the day she arrived in the promotion. Waterson knew that it was a great matchup plus a win over Namajunas made the path to the title that much clearer.
"There were a couple of names on the table but respectfully Rose thought it would be a great matchup," Waterson explained
"Rose beat Paige in a main event. I was able to beat Paige in a main event. She's higher ranked than I am and if I'm trying to get to that belt, I need to fight someone higher ranked than me. But also everybody likes Rose, they like her style, they like that she brings it and the same goes with me as well. After my fight with Paige there was lots of talk. [Jessica] Andrade calling me out because her fight fell through and Felice [Herrig] calling me out after she had beaten Alexa Grasso, so it was nice to just have everybody's attention for once."
Waterson is very familiar with Namajunas because they've actually trained under the same coaches at different points in their respective careers so she has nothing but the utmost respect for her ahead of their co-main event fight this weekend in Kansas City.
Of course, Namajunas also asked for the fight with Waterson several times, but her "call out" was actually very gracious and complimentary rather than the typical trash talk meant to hype things up.
"I do know her. I probably know her better than most of the other strawweights on the roster. She trains out in Colorado right now, that's my hometown," Waterson said. "I grew up cross training with Trevor Wittman and Nate Marquardt and Duane "Bang" [Ludwig] so I know all those guys out there. Rose has come down to New Mexico and cross trained with us. I went to Colorado to train with her before she went on the TUF show. We've always had a good relationship.
"That's just the name of the game. It's like "Highlander", there can be only one."
While Waterson's relationship with Namajunas could be described as friendly, she knows that's not always going to be the case.
Given the attention Waterson received after her win over VanZant and the jump up in the rankings to fight Namajunas this weekend, she's well aware that kindness and respect will go flying out the window in the very near future.
Waterson is prepared for whatever verbal assault any potential challengers might throw at her because ultimately she'll get to settle the score in the Octagon and thus far that has been working out quite well for her.
"It's only a matter of time before someone says something disrespectful and it's just how it goes," Waterson said. "We're all going to end up fighting each other anyways. The roster's pretty small but there has to be some type of hype for a fight.
"If everybody skirted the nice line then it wouldn't be no fun."
Check out Waterson along with opponent Rose Namajunas and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson on the latest Fight Society podcast via Soundcloud or download and subscribe via iTunes.