If someone told you she was involved in MMA, you’d probably assume she was a ring girl. You’d be wrong of course. Michelle Waterson’s knockout looks may have earned her the nickname “Karate Hottie”, but she’s a bonafi de pro MMA fi ghter. This month, Michelle talks to us about fi ghting, training at Greg Jackson’s, and helping to carry the torch for women’s MMA.
Hi Michelle, So tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Aurora, Colorado, and spent some time in Germany as well.
How did you get interested in Martial Arts?
Well, I started studying American Freestyle Karate when I was about ten, thanks to my brother. I competed in a lot of tournaments and did point sparring for a long time, but once I got my black belt I got curious about other styles. I studied Wushu for awhile which focuses more on traditional kung fu forms and acrobatics, competed internationally and did pretty well, but it was always in the back of my head if I could really fi ght and defend myself.
And how did that lead you into combat sports?
My mom, who is Thai, made a trip to Thailand and I went with her and did a 2 week Muay Thai camp while I was there. I absolutely fell in love with how challenging it was for me. When I came back I was really interested in fi ghting but I didn’t know any gyms to train at for Muay Thai. I ended up getting a job as a ring girl and became friends with one of the fi ghters, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. I told him I was interested in fi ghting. He was like “well if you’re serious about it, get your ass in the gym and we’ll start training”. I thought it was cool that he was willing to help me out with the training. I got a couple of amateur Muay Thai fi ghts in and then Donald was like “let’s do an MMA fi ght!”
Very cool. So before you were featured on the reality show Fight Girls, were you already competing in MMA?
I had taken my fi rst pro bout about a month before I went out to Vegas to shoot the show. I had no amateur fi ghts before that.
Just jumped right into the deep end huh?
Yup, go hard or don’t go at all!
So how was your fi rst experience in the cage? Obviously you liked it if you’re still fi ghting.
Oh yeah, it was an adrenaline rush like no other. I was nervous, excited, there were lots of emotions. You know before that, I had a few Muay Thai fi ghts, little smokers and stuff, and then I take a pro MMA fi ght in front of 9,000 people. It was crazy.
You just fought recently right?
Yeah, I just fought July 12, against Thricia Poovey. She’s a scrapper man. Our original game plan was to take her down and ground and pound but we ended up just standing up and boxing.
And you won by TKO?
Yep, TKO second round, she didn’t come out for the third. It was a good feeling, but that fi ght was really challenging for me mentally. You know there was a part in the fi ght where I was like “I don’t know”. She had me against the cage and was throwing bombs at me. I was thinking “she’s about to win right now” and I was arguing with myself I was like “no no no.. she can’t.” So I turned it around and took it to her.
Do you think training at Greg Jackson’s place has been a big part of your improvement?
Oh yeah, tremendous. Just everything about it, the family atmosphere, coach Jackson is great, and coach Winklejohn and Vanarnsdale are very motivating. And of top of that I have great training partners like Julie Kedzie and Holly Holm. It’s just a great place to learn and advance.
Do you train with the guys a lot?
How does that work? Do they ever go easy on you because you’re a girl?
Well, usually what happens is they go easy on me until I kick them in the face, and then they don’t go easy on me any more.
Haha… so do you think people tend to underestimate you because of the way you look?
I think sometimes yeah. But either way, when you get in the ring and you start going at it, it tends to go away. Whether someone underestimates me or not, is their fault.
Have you ever had issues with making assumptions about your opponents based on the way they look?
I have in the past, but I’ve come to realize that we’re all human, we all bleed the same, and I’m gonna hit her as hard as she’s gonna hit me.
So ultimately, what do you want to do with your fi ghting career?
My goal right now is to fi ght on national tv and hopefully get a belt. I wanna fi ght in Japan because I know theres a lot of good smaller girls out there.
So what do you do for fun when you aren’t training?
Well, I love to rock climb… sometimes we go paintballing, that’s a lot of fun. And theres a country bar we go to on Thursday nights and we all do some line dancing and some two steppin’.
Line dancing? I would have never guessed. That’s awesome.
haha.. well Albuquerque is such a small place you know, there are less distractions so we’re able to train more. When we do have free time we usually try to relax.
So do you like listening to country music?
You know, I do. I hated country music growing up, but Cowboy wouldn’t let me listen to anything else. It drove me crazy, but I love it now. I love all kinds of music though, I grew up on hip hop.
What would you say to other women that might be interested in the sport?
I’d just tell them if you want to get into it, you’ve got to be able to handle the pressure. But once you get in the ring, it’s on and fi ght or fl ight takes over. I’d tell them to go for it and not be scared. Its 80% mental.
Speaking of the mental aspect, do you do anything special to prepare mentally for your fi ghts?
I do a lot of visualization. I write a lot of inspirational quotes on my mirror just to help me stay motivated. Sometimes I wake up and I’m sore as hell and I ask myself “why am I doing this.. do I really have to go to the gym every day and get beat up?” But then I remember that I’m fi ghting for more than just me, I’m fi ghting for my gym, for my family and for the people that are looking up to me. My mom will tell me about her friends daughters that love watching me fi ght, and that means a lot to me. To be a positive roll model to other young women out there, because it’s tough to be a woman in this sport and represent yourself in a positive light.
Well you’re doing a fantastic job. We look forward to seeing more of you inside and out of the cage!