Michelle Waterson, left, in action against Karolina Kowalkiewicz on March 30, 2019, in Philadelphia, fights again Saturday in New York. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Last year, Michelle Waterson spent five months in Wales, working as a stuntwoman on a soon-to-be-released movie entitled “Havoc.”
And havoc is precisely what Waterson intends to wreak on the person of Amanda Lemos in the UFC octagon on Saturday in Elmont, New York.
She intends to do so, however, with no malice – only joy at returning to MMA competition after 14 months.
Pressure? What pressure?
“I’ve kind of hit a sweet spot,” the Albuquerque fighter said on Thursday in a phone interview from Long Island. “I realize I do this because I love it, and if I allow myself to add on any pressure, it’s unnecessary and unwanted.
“I do this because I love to do martial arts, I love to perform under the lights, and I just want to go out there and have a good time.”
Make no mistake; Waterson (18-9) hasn’t traveled 2,000-plus miles to lose. As long as it’s been since she fought, it’s been longer – 22 months – since she won. After defeating Angela Hill by split decision in September 2020, she lost by unanimous decision to Marina Rodriguez, a fight Waterson accepted in a heavier weight class than she’d previously fought, in May 2021.
Now back at her accustomed UFC weight of 115 pounds, she’s a significant betting underdog (plus-255 per sportsbetting.ag) against Lemos (11-2-1), a Brazilian who for a time trained with Waterson at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink MMA .
You can tell Waterson the odds if you want; just don’t expect her to care.
“We know each other a little bit,” Waterson said, adding she sees no particular advantage in that for either fighter. “I think, stylistically, her style vs. mine will lend to a really good fight.”
Waterson’s MMA hiatus was extended after the Wales trip by an injury she characterized at the time as “potentially career-threatening,” which forced the cancellation of a scheduled March 26 fight against Amanda Ribas. Waterson has chosen not to reveal the nature of the injury.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, Waterson said, it’s been difficult to feel like part of the MMA community. Though she fought twice in 2020 and once in 2021, those fights were contested with no fans present or with only a few.
A large and lively crowd is expected Saturday at UBS Arena.
During an on-site news conference on Wednesday, Waterson said she was grateful to have been able to fight during the pandemic. But she liked the atmosphere at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nev., a small venue originally not intended as a fight site, to “going into the office, or training at home. It’s just a different feeling.
“I’m really looking forward to Saturday.”
mrs. GOMEZ: Saturday’s fight coincides with the 10th wedding anniversary for Waterson and her husband, Josh Gomez. In celebration, on Thursday, Waterson revealed that the kit she’ll wear into the Octagon on Saturday will bear the name “Gomez.”
“My heart has always belonged to GOMEZ,” she posted, “and now I wear it as a badge of honor going into battle!!! Call me MRS. GOMEZ.”
Gomez, an Albuquerque financial adviser, is a former Armed Services amateur boxing champion. He boxed professionally as well.
ALADDIN’S CAMP: Waterson, Gomez and their daughter, Araya, went into New York City on Wednesday and saw “Aladdin” the musical at the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway.
Sign up for our free Daily Sports Newsletter
“My daughter’s with me during all of fight camp,” Waterson said, “and she has to deal with me being cranky mom and training three or four times a day and missing her rehearsals and stuff.
“So the least I can do is give her some time when I have it.”
STAR-STRUCK: On the set of “Havoc,” Waterson worked with the likes of Tom Hardy, Forest Whitaker and Luis Guzman.
“I got a chance to be around all these amazing actors, and being in a different world was really fun,” she said. “What was even more fun about it was I still able to do martial arts, just in a different aspect.
“So, definitely, I want to take advantage of any (future) opportunity that presents itself.”