FIGHTING WORDS: MICHELLE WATERSON ON BECOMING THE NEW INVICTA FC ATOMWEIGHT WORLD CHAMPION
Michelle Waterson recently defeated Jessica Penne at Invicta FC 5 to win the World Atomweight Championship, and she took a few minutes to tell us what life has been like since winning the championship, what it’s like to be a fighting mother, and most importantly where she keeps the title belt!
Michelle also walks us through the championship bout itself, and reveals how important the mental aspect of training is to pushing through when you run into adversity. Fighting Words thanks Michelle for her time!
Corey Smith: You began training in martial arts at a young age, specifically American Karate and Wushu, which led to the nickname “Karate Hottie.” What aspects of those martial arts do you utilize the most in your MMA career?
Michelle Waterson: I think that right now the most that I use from my karate background would be my kicks. They aren’t necessarily karate kicks, but the quickness of the kicks is what sets me apart from a lot other MMA fighters out there. I can shoot the kicks out there quicker, and right now I’m working on putting some power behind it.
CS: After karate, you switched over to Muay Thai, and spent some time training over in Thailand. What is it like in a Thai training camp compared to an American training team?
MW: In Thailand, in a lot of the gyms they have the children living there. A lot of the families are poor, and fighting has always been a way for them to get out of poverty. When I was training in Thailand I felt how fighting was their life. The kids there live in the camp, they wake up there, they go for their run, and they eat breakfast and then go off to school. When they come back they train at night, and then do homework. In Thailand they fight pretty often and the fighters give their prize money to their families so they can eat.
MW: The camps themselves, and I’m not sure if it was just the camp that I was at, or if it is like this all over Thailand, but it was outside. So it was a great experience, and I would love to go back now knowing what I know and compare my fighting ability. When I first went out there to train I had only had my karate and Wushu background.
CS: You train now primarily out of Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico. What drew you to that team, and what keeps you there today?
MW: Before I was training out of Denver with Donald Cerrone, and he went out to New Mexico to train. I was on the reality show Fight Girls and I didn’t want to go back to Colorado. So I ended up going out there and seeing how I liked it, and ended up really loving it. Coach Jackson opened his arms and his gym to me, and treated me like family. Coach Jackson let me live in the dorm until I found a place there, and it really touched my heart and it became part of my life.
MW: I liked the fact that he treated us like his own children, and it really did have a family feel to it to me. I loved the fact that there were so many people coming in to train, and I didn’t have to go to three different places to train, I could train at one spot. I ended up falling in love with New Mexico, and so I ended up staying.
CS: You gave birth to your daughter Araya close to two years ago, what has been the key to balancing your MMA career and being a mother? What has been the biggest challenge?
MW: I think the key to being able to balance it, is having a really supportive family. My husband supports me in what I do, and tries to help me as much as possible. My mom lives with us and helps watch Araya, so I didn’t feel guilty leaving her at home because she is with my mom.
MW: The hardest part is missing those “first” moments when she is so young. I feel like she is growing up so fast, and sometimes during a training camp you get in the zone and you have to go, which is hard.
CS: Your husband is a professional boxer, how much does that help with your career? How much does it help having someone who understands what a training camp is like when you get home at the end of the day?
MW: I think it makes a huge difference, I think that’s why we mesh so well. He has a boxing background, and I have MMA. There are similarities, but they are also different enough that we can have something to ourselves. He does understand, and we understand each other.
CS: Most fighters say that the weight cut is the hardest part about being a fighter. Aside from that, what would you say is the hardest aspect?
MW: I think getting through mental blocks is the hardest part for me. Your mental has a lot to do with your physical, and it all intertwines together. It’s the most challenging part for me, fighting through mental blocks, and it’s also the reason I enjoy fighting so much.
CS: How has your experience been like so far with Invicta Fighting Championships?
MW: Being an Invicta fighter makes me feel blessed. Shannon and Janet and everyone that works for the organization truly does have our best interests at heart. They want to see us succeed, and it’s a good feeling to know that they are on our side. I always tell people that they don’t call us “females” or “chicks.” They refer to us as athletes, and that’s what we are. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to be. In turn we want to perform for them, so it’s a win win for everyone.
CS: You recently defeated Jessica Penne for the Invicta Atomweight Championship. Jessica had you in trouble a few times, most notably with an arm bar in the third. How did the fight go compared to how you thought it would beforehand, and what were your general thoughts about the match and after the win?
MW: My game plan going into was to focus on what I needed to do to her, so in my mind I never visualized her beating me. It was always what I could do to her. I understood that wherever the fight went, I needed to be mentally strong enough to take it there. I wanted it to be a standup fight, and it always seems to work out that way for me. The biggest problem for me was that she was the champ, and there was a lot of hype behind her, and for good reason.
MW: I was the overwhelming underdog going into the fight, and I needed to push all of that aside and know in my heart that I could beat her. So I didn’t pay attention to any of the media, and I tried to stay away from the internet. I got in the zone on my own, and just kept telling myself that I could beat her. I knew that I had the physical capabilities of doing it, I just had to go out there and perform.
MW: I thought the first round was kinda back and forth, and I feel like it could have gone either way for both of us. The second round I think that I was able to dominate her. I wish that I had done a little more ground and pound, but I also understood how good of a jiu Jitsu player that she is, so I just had to keep working her with heavy pressure.
MW: The third round I was just getting worked though. Everyone keeps asking me about the armbar, but truthfully the armbar isn’t when I felt like I was in danger. It was her ground and pound that I felt was never going to end. She had my back, and I felt like every time I moved she kept getting a better position for her ground and pound. I had to keep telling myself “keep pushing through.”
MW: I was talking to Coach Wink today, and he told me had spoken to John McCarthy, the ref in the fight, and that John heard me say me say to myself “don’t quit.” I remember thinking it in my head, but I didn’t remember saying it out loud. It’s crazy how much mental control you have over yourself. I don’t have control over what Jessica could do to me, but I have control over what I can do.
MW: And so at that time and moment I choose not to quit, and I think that turned the tables. I don’t think Jessica was expecting me not to quit, and I was able to get out of that armbar. And then the forth round came around, and we went to the ground I was able to set up a string of submissions and landed a good one. So here we are.
CS: When you are in the cage, what type of coaching and feedback do you look for from your corner? Did anyone’s voice stand out over the others that night?
MW: I think that it’s important to have calm corners, corners that can see what I am not seeing and bring me back to the little things that I am not doing. I usually always look at my mom and Araya when I’m coming out. Coach Jackson, Coach Wink and my husband were in my corner for this fight, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. They are always there for me, and that’s a dream corner right there.
CS: What was the reaction at your gym when you brought the title in for the first time?
MW: Everyone just kept saying “The champ is here! The champ is here!” It was a good feeling, and everyone was happy for me. Lots of pats of the back. They all helped me get the title, so it was nice to bring it home.
CS: Looking at the Invicta Atomweight division, what are your thoughts?
MW: I think that our division is an amazing division. As far as me scouting out the other athletes, I’m not any good at that. I just take it fight by fight and let my coaches do the scouting. I always respect any fighter that gets in the ring, because they put in the time to get there. I take my training and I focus on myself though. I leave the outside stuff to my coaches.
CS: Where do you keep the title belt now? Do you take it to dinner with you or sleep with it like other champions?
MW: It’s the centerpiece for my dining room table!
CS: Are there any perks to being the champion that you didn’t realize before? Do you get a closer parking spot at the gym?
MW: No not really, I think it’s kinda just life as usual. It is pretty awesome to have someone call me ‘champ.’ It has meaning to it for me.
CS: When you aren’t training, what type of things do you enjoy doing? What helps you unwind after a long day of training camp?
MW: For me it’s changed a lot since I had my daughter. I really enjoy spending time with her, and with family. It’s the little things you take for granted. She’s already two years old, and I just enjoy spending time with her and my family in general outside of fighting.
MW: I love to do crafts, I’m a scrapbooker! Anything crafty I enjoy doing when I have time, and I’m addicted to Pinterest. When I’m cutting weight I pin all the fatty recipes for later; for times when I can eat. I also enjoy doing anything adventurous and outdoors; camping, rockclimbing, anything like that. It’s hard to find time for it during camp with a family as well.
MW: During camp we always watch movies together. Movies take you out of reality for a little bit, so we love to watch movies. We just got a new house, so for my last camp all I did was come home and remodel the house. I didn’t have time to stress about Jessica in camp, or what was being said. After training I had to come home to tear down walls and paint.
CS: Now that you have won the championship, what are your goals moving forward?
MW: When I was the contender, I was talking to Coach Jackson and he told me it was easy becoming the champ, it’s hard to stay the champ. That is something that I have to keep in mind, because now I have a huge target on my head. Everyone is gunning for me, so I have to keep improving my game. I still feel like I wasn’t able to showcase my abilities when I fought Jessica. You do so much in training, and you practice so many moves, and then you get in the fight and don’t get to show it off. I still feel like I have so much to show people.
CS: Finally, MMA is equally a team sport as it is an individual sport. Who would you like to thank?
MW: I couldn’t do it without my husband or my mom taking care of Araya. And I want thank all my family and fans for being supportive of me and believing in me.
MW: Invicta of course for making it all possible!
MW: My strength and conditioning at Turning Point, and my coaches Coach Jackson, Coach Winkeljohn, Coach Izzy, and Coach Valle.
MW: My sponsors EatFit@ABQ.Com, Bony Acai, Buffalo Wild Wings, OnIt Supplements, and MMA Sporting Goods.
MW: Follow me on Twitter @KarateHottieMMA