It was supposed to be a showcase fight for Paige VanZant in her hometown of Sacramento, but UFC on FOX 22 ended up being the night Michelle Waterson begun her rise. The “Karate Hottie” put VanZant away with a rear-naked choke halfway through the first round to win her first fight in a year-and-a-half, and her second UFC fight ever.
Waterson’s longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn said he believed she would have a good showing in Sacramento, but he didn’t expect her to be as dominant as she was.
“No, not dominant, but I was confident she could win the fight, no doubt about it,” he said during an appearance on The MMA Hour. “I believe in Michelle’s skills. I mean, she’s…I felt like she was more technical everywhere. And she knows how to win. That’s just how it is, she knows how to win. She had the one loss defending her title, but that was a game of inches of one punch. She slipped on a kick and got hit with one punch. That was basically it, and it changed the whole fight. She’s that good.”
Waterson has looked great in recent years, going 8-1 in her last nine fights with wins over Jessica Penne (armbar), Yasuko Tamada (TKO) and — in her UFC debut — against Angela Magana (rear-naked choke).
In the post-fight press conference, Waterson said she thought she bewildered VanZant by switching stances and letting her kicks fly. That was part of the game plan, according to Winkeljohn.
“Yeah, it comes from — honestly, I won’t lie — Michelle broke her hand again in [the Aisling Daly] camp early on, and so I said, well, I’m going to do what I do with Holly,” he said. “Let’s just start going back to our kicks a little bit. And Michelle’s so good, from both sides, but from that southpaw stance she can really side kick people and hurt them.”
“And I figured Paige, I really thought Paige was coming hard. She didn’t, and at the moment I was thinking, okay, she’s not coming hard, she’s going to take some time. It didn’t dawn on me that she was probably hesitating, and the other coach’s were saying yeah, you could see it on her face, she was trying to figure it out. I was just enthralled with her footwork trying to figure out why she’s not coming. But I think that played a little bit.”
Winkeljohn said she came out of the figh in near mint condition.
“She did get hit once after she hammered Paige with a good right hand that she stepped down into,” he said. “But then she kind of threw it a little bit off balance and Paige touched her, but I mean, I’m talking about just touched her. I think it was pretty much a dominant performance that everything we’d worked on, and everything the coaches worked on…the guys we had that worked with her in the corner were just brilliant, every single thing they did, it was amazing to watch, it was like scripted. And Michelle did everything. She’s a genius in there.”
Asked what he thinks is next for Waterson, Winkeljohn said she would accept any fight the UFC proposed and he believes she is one fight away from a title shot.
“I think she’s one fight out from a title shot,” he said. “I really do. I think she’s right there. One fight and then get a title shot.”
Do you agree with Coach Winkeljohn, is Waterson one fight from a title shot? Who would you like to see her face next? Let us know in the comments below.