Michelle ‘Karate Hottie’ Waterson's rise to fame (VIDEO)
Every sport has its pioneers, the athletes who helped build the foundation for where things would end up going – and MMA is no exception.
Legendary fighters like Royce Gracie, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Mark Coleman just to name a few, perfectly fall under this category... and not just because they're literally inducted into the pioneer wing of UFC's Hall of Fame.
Of the female competitors of the sport, Megumi Fujii is considered one of the all-time greats and was really the first fighter to set the fight scene on fire as she submitted her way to victory practically each and every time out. And it would be only two years after Fujii began her illustrious career that Gina Carano would start hers and really bring the women to light.
All fighters listed have since gone and retired from their daily face-punching routines. However, there is still one fighter that happens to fall under the pioneer category while still remaining a top contender in the current landscape. A pretty impressive feat to say the least.
This is the story of the rise of the "Karate Hottie," Michelle Waterson.
It's been quite a wild journey for Waterson. Learning karate as early as age 10, Waterson holds a black-belt in the American freestyle variant of that discipline. But originally, her saga in MMA began as a ring girl and she wouldn't begin her mixed martial arts training until she met her future longtime training partner, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone when working a show that he was competing at. Cerrone overheard Waterson's conversation with the promoter of the local event about how she was interested in fighting rather than holding up signs. After that, Cerrone would leave a note at her job reading, "Hey, if you're serious about fighting, get your butt in the gym."
That gym, of course, being the famous JacksonWink MMA. And the rest, as they say, would be history.
Waterson's fighting debut was supposed to be in an amateur bout in February 2007 but instead got switched to a pro bout when her opponent dropped out. Obviously leading to a pro filling in. With Cowboy by her side, he convinced her to step up to the task at hand and she would end up scoring a unanimous decision win.
As her career continued onward, the strawweight would find degrees of success usually resulting in submission finishes. As she continued to grow in the sport, opportunities outside of the cage would continue presenting themselves. She would appear on the reality TV show, Fight Girls which aired on the Oxygen network. Since then Waterson has also appeared on MTV's Bully Beatdown, American Ninja Warrior, and even some movies such as MacGruber and Fright Night.
However, that's not the primary story of the Aurora, Colorado native.
After amassing a record of 9-3, Waterson would get her biggest MMA break yet when she was signed to Invicta FC in 2012. This coming one fight removed from her officially becoming a mother with the birth of her daughter, Araya.
A 115-pound strawweight for the majority of her career, Waterson would make the drop to 105-pounds at atomweight prior to her Invicta signing.
After earning Fight of the Night honors by taking out Lacey Schuckman in her promotional debut, Waterson now rode a solid four-fight winning streak and was granted a title shot.
And she would make good on her chance in what is still regarded as one of the best fights in Invicta history. In the fourth-round, Waterson would end up catching the inaugural champion, Jessica Penne, in an armbar that forced the tap. Waterson had established herself as the first face of the young division and had star potential written all over her.
A successful title defense against Yasuko Tamada would follow before Waterson's biggest fight yet.
On December 5, 2014, "The Karate Hottie" was set to defend her crown against rising Brazilian, Herica Tiburcio. This would be the first fight that Waterson's daughter got to witness live and in person.
An emotional occasion for the proud mother would only be magnified as such after Tiburcio would pull off the upset via third-round guillotine.Also on rt.com Weight off her mind: UFC star Jedrzejczyk makes limit for Waterson fight – but what was behind rumors of weight-cut woes? (VIDEO)
Along with the aforementioned Penne, Waterson is one of the few pioneers of the atomweight division. And after her stint ended in that weight class against Tiburcio, she would make the jump to the UFC where she still calls home today.
In the same month of that fight, the UFC introduced their strawweight class through a season of The Ultimate Fighter. Thus opening the door for Waterson to enter back into the 115-pound mix.
Starting things off a bit slow and steadily with only two fights in two years, Waterson would win them both regardless. Unfortunately, a rough patch would follow as Tecia Torres and future UFC champion, Rose Namajunas, would hand her defeats directly afterward.
At that point, it seemed like many were ready to count out the "Fight Mom" in her pursuit of becoming a UFC "mom champ." Instead, she would shock the critics by racking up three very impressive wins against top competition. Therefore showing that the dream was still a possibility.
As of right now, no mothers have ever touched UFC gold. But if "The Karate Hottie," can achieve this goal, it will just add to her list of history makings.
Sometimes you can't entirely count out a fighter until everything is said and done. And Michelle Waterson isn't the first example of this and she most certainly won't be the last.
By Drake Riggs for RT Sport