Over the last year, we’ve witnessed a real resurgence back to title contention for UFC Fight Night Tampa headliner, Michelle Waterson. Currently riding a three fight win streak into the toughest test of her professional career to date, in the form of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, a victory over the former division best, almost guarantees the 33-year-old a crack at strawweight gold. It’s a familiar situation for the Jackson-Wink MMA trainee, who back in 2017, found herself a single victory away from meeting Jedrzejczyk, this time, with championship gold up for grabs.
Waterson had arrived in the promotion back in 2015, having blitzed her way though the atomweight division of Invicta FC, and without an established 105 pound division, immediately returned to strawweight, with initial success. Storming past Angela Magana in her promotional bow, Waterson was catapulted into a main event slot alongside Paige van Zant, in somewhat of a prospect versus prospect matchup at the time in Sacramento, and similarly dispatched the Oregan native within the opening frame. Inside two years, Waterson had picked up two victories and two finishes to boot, and was heavily promoted by the UFC, as she met with future champion, ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas.
In a highly-anticipated clash which subsequently became a title-eliminator at 115 pounds, Waterson suffered her first defeat since signing with the UFC. Knocked down by the advanced striker Namajunas, Waterson was eventually submitted via rear-naked choke. Namajunas would of course go on to meet Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217, where she overthrew Joanna inside the opening round to claim the title, and hand the Pole her first professional loss. For Waterson, she was paired with Tecia Torres once more, after a knee injury forced her from a meeting in her second Octagon walk. Adding to her woes, Torres outpointed Waterson over the course of their three round affair to take home a unanimous decision victory.
Waterson, as mentioned earlier, has won three in three since her loss to Torres, the first coming against the dangerous Courtney ‘Cast Iron’ Casey. In a narrow contest in April last year, Waterson returned to the win column via a razor-thin split decision. A matchup against Felice Herrig was booked next who at the time, just had an impressive four-fight win streak over some notable names, snapped by Polish striker Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Waterson once more landed at a considerably higher clip, this time almost out-landing Herrig two-to-one in terms of total strikes in their UFC 229 meeting to take the judge’s decision.
In arguably her most high-profile UFC fight to date, Waterson met with former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz who just four fights prior, had met compatriot Jedrzejczyk for championship honours. Displaying her well rounded offense of kickboxing and often underestimated grappling, Waterson managed two fight altering takedowns and snuck ahead on the scorecards with her successful striking rate.
Against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Waterson’s well rounded game will be tested to it’s absolute limit without a doubt. The Muay Thai base Joanna has brought with her to the Octagon since her 2014 bow, has proved more successful than not on many occasion. The standup battle is just that, a Muay Thai display versus a traditional kickboxing or karate display. Waterson has honed quite the varied kicking game in recent years, and if needed, can rely on her promising offensive wrestling.
Jedrzejczyk was taken down an alarming five times against Valentina Shevchenko at flyweight last time out, despite showing some remarkable takedown defence during her run as a dominant strawweight champion. Despite moving up a division to challenge for the 125 pound title last time out, Jedrzejczyk has always displayed unmatched cardio at 115 pounds, often turning up the pressure midway through a main event clash.