Long before Michelle Waterson-Gomez ever put those four-ounce gloves on her hands, “The Karate Hottie” knew she was a fighter, through and through.
Becoming a mainstay in the UFC rankings certainly bolsters that belief, as well, but MMA fans have notoriously short memories, and it doesn’t take long before negative buzz starts to crack one’s foundation. At 37 years old, Waterson-Gomez knows how to block all that out and get back to her core belief in who she is and what she can do.
“I decided to say (to outside voices), ‘Screw you,’” Waterson-Gomez told UFC.com. “I don't care what you think about who I am, I know who I am, and I'm going to live my life the best way I know how - as a warrior with the UFC.”
Despite fighting twice a year for the majority of her eight years on the roster, Waterson-Gomez competed just twice since the start of 2021.
After dropping a hard-fought main event bout to Marina Rodriguez in 2021, Waterson-Gomez returned in July 2022 hoping to halt the momentum of surging Brazilian Amanda Lemos. For the most part, Waterson-Gomez looked like herself, but in a flash, Lemos wrapped Waterson-Gomez up in a guillotine choke, and the veteran found herself having lost four of her last five bouts.
“I belong,” Waterson-Gomez said when asked about what she learned from her fight against Lemos. “I was winning the fight until I wasn't, and that's kind of what you get when you step into the Octagon. MMA is just so unforgiving, and you can go left instead of right, or dip instead of dodge and lose a fight. It can happen to anybody. It happened to (Valentina) Shevchenko. It's happened to (Israel) Adesanya… It doesn't mean that you're not a world class fighter. It doesn't mean that you're not a badass. It just means that, in that moment, you lost.
“I walked away with my head held high, knowing that it was a moment of failure, and it doesn't represent who I am as a fighter. I have so much more to give.”
Since then, Waterson-Gomez has continued to refine her game. She hoped to get another fight in before the new year but, at the very least, she said she signed a new eight-fight contract with the mixed marital arts leader.
Michelle Waterson-Gomez | Warrior Code
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Michelle Waterson-Gomez | Warrior Code
With the business-side settled, Waterson-Gomez went back to the lab at Jackson/Wink in New Mexico, where she, along with friend and teammate Holly Holm – who is fresh off a win in San Antonio - continue to stretch their careers past many of their peers in terms of longevity.
“I really took the time within this year to just grow and develop and evolve as a fighter,” Waterson-Gomez said. “I think that that's kind of the secret sauce is to grow with the sport. If you stop learning, then you're just going to be left in the dust. I've been embracing being a student and just really honing in on who I am as a fighter and really embracing that.
“(Holm) walks the walk, and that's how she is as a leader. She never points the finger and tells you that you should be doing this or that. She just leads by example. We see it every day in the gym. We see her go through her hardships, and she just kind of brushes it off her shoulder and continues to trek forward because she gets to do what she's passionate about. I follow step, and it has definitely fed into the type of person that I am as a fighter, for sure.”
Waterson-Gomez is brimming with positive energy heading into UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2, despite her recent run of form. In Miami, she faces the up-and-coming Luana Pinheiro who boasts an eight-fight win streak and passed her first couple of tests in the Octagon. Injuries hampered the Contender Series alumna and kept her out of action for all of 2022, but she is certainly eager to make her name with a win over a veteran like Waterson-Gomez.
For Waterson-Gomez, she respects what Pinheiro brings to the table, but she is certain her experience against top level competition will make the difference come fight night. When it comes time to walk, Waterson-Gomez expects the energy felt during the week to channel itself into Kaseya Center and help her produce something special for the Miami crowd.
“I'm just feeling the vibe this whole week,” Waterson said. “Touching down in Miami, feeling the heat and just loving the energy that Miami has to bring. I actually do very well with the pressure, with the crowd, with the noise. It amplifies my motivation and allows me to really connect with the audience. At the end of the day, we're fighting, but we're performing for an audience. When I have an audience that is excited to come watch fights, I want to give them a show.”
UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2 took place live from Kayesa Center in Miami, Florida on April 8, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!