A great warrior isn’t defined by gender or physical strength but by their ability to rise up in the most difficult situations and prevail. In the combat sports world, men are always given more respect and attention than their female counterparts even when that respect and attention is not always warranted.
UFC fighters and males in other organizations have certainly overcome many intense struggles on their path to mainstream acceptance but it has been far worse and harder for the women. However, just like a Phoenix, the resilient ladies of the cage are rising up.
Formed earlier this year by CEO Shannon Knapp, the Invicta Fighting Championships have given these girls the platform they have long deserved. With two highly successful shows under their belt, Knapp, matchmaker Janet Martin and all of the female athletes on the card are set to make their third show even more spectacular than the previous two.
Every week here on BJPenn.com, leading up to Invicta FC 3 on October 6, I will feature a fighter on the card and detail their trials and tribulations that led them to this point in addition to their future in the organization.
On the first edition of Phoenix Rising, I take a look at one of the most beautiful and talented atomweights in the world, Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson.
Raised in karate, grown in Muay Thai
Born on January 6, 1986 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Waterson found martial arts at semi-early age. She began studying American Freestyle Karate at the age of 10 and eventually earned her black belt in the traditional style. In today’s age of mixed martial arts, the combat sports community is quick to dismiss karate but it’s because they simply do not understand it.
Yes, the argument is valid that many aspects of karate have proven to be ineffective in a cage fight but a competitor born in karate has so many attributes to their advantage. They just have to be able to make the proper adjustments in order to utilize those abilities in the most effective way which is what Waterson has done with her style of karate.
She has mixed in her karate techniques with the devastating strikes of Muay Thai and unorthodox WuShu methods thus developing her own diverse standup game.
Beauty, Talent and “Fight Girls”
In 2004, Waterson started to pursue a career in the modeling industry upon graduating from high school. The fire to compete, however, started to burn and she began competing in Muay Thai before signing a deal to fight and be featured on the hit reality series “Fight Girls” on the Oxygen channel in 2006.
The show was a Muay-Thai themed version of The Ultimate Fighter with 10 female fighters living, training and fighting each other for a chance to fight for a Muay Thai championship in Thailand. The coaches were Muay Thai champ Lisa “The Black Widow” King and the ultra-popular Gina Carano.
Waterson was defeated by Ardra Hernandez but became an overnight superstar due to her time on the show. Everyone on almost every MMA forum on the internet was talking about “The Karate Hottie” and posting up pictures of her on their boards.
Jumping into MMA
After having success in Muay Thai, Waterson’s training partner and current UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone decided that they should both pursue mixed martial arts. She relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico following the “Fight Girls” reality show and sought out the training of Greg Jackson.
Waterson made the transition to MMA in 2007 very successfully with a unanimous decision victory over Andrea Miller. She alternated between a loss, a win and another loss that year before winning four fights in a row, all finishes.
Then, Waterson met up with a road block in former boxer Elena Reid and was put away with strikes for the first time in her young MMA career.
Her winning streak and everything she worked hard to accomplish was halted in what likely felt like a blink of an eye to her. Rather than dwell on the loss, she rose up and came back to win her next two fights before achieving the greatest victory of all—parenthood.
Two years off, Ronda Rousey becomes mega star, Invicta FC is born
Waterson announced in September 2010 that she was pregnant with her first child and engaged to her now husband. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Araya on March 8 2011 and took two years away from fighting to be with her daughter.
During her time away from competing, women’s MMA really started hitting some major strides. The absence of Carano, the face of WMMA at the time, was a tough obstacle to overcome but due to Carano’s popularity more organizations started giving women a chance to compete on television.
Strikeforce and Bellator both hosted female tournaments, won by Miesha Tate and Zoila Gurgel respectively. Tate went on to defeat Marloes Coenen for the Strikeforce 135-lbs title before a massive star was born in Ronda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist.
Waterson returned in January 2012 with a submission win over Diana Rael and shortly thereafter Invicta FC hosted their first event in April.
Invicta debut, championship future
Knapp was kind enough to tell us first on BJPenn.com Radio that “The Karate Hottie” would be making her debut at Invicta FC 3 in October. Her opponent, Lacey Schuckman was submitted by top ranked Ayaka Hamasaki at Invicta FC 2 but is still an incredibly tough opponent that could propel Waterson into title contention.
Women’s MMA still has a long ways to go before it is being given the same amount of attention as the guys in the UFC, Strikeforce or Bellator but it is definitely headed in the right direction.
Waterson has the kind of superstar potential that Carano and Rousey have and if she is able to stay consistent with Invicta, she could reach that mainstream level in a heartbeat.