Roles define people. Careers, marriage, social circles, parenthood and hobbies all come together with raw spirit to help create a persona.

For Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson, her persona, arguably her second chronological role in life after her role as a daughter, was that of a martial artist.

“I just want people to know that I grew up in martial arts,” said Waterson in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “It wasn’t something I just one day decided, ‘Hmm, I’m going to be a fighter.’ I grew up doing martial arts, since I was 10 years old. So, martial arts has been a part of my life, and I feel deserving to be where I am today and also blessed to be where I am today.

“Fighting is part of my martial arts and part of my journey in life. I feel like for me, it’s all about that learning experience. It’s great to go after your goals and your dreams and to make those dreams come true.”

Whether it was part of the dream or not, Waterson’s next role was that of a model.

Waterson (L) delivers a front kick (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

In 2004, after high school, Waterson began a modeling career, but she continued to train in martial arts, eventually working her way into MMA. It was always clear that modeling took a backseat to fighting.

In her pro MMA debut in 2007, Waterson proved that she was a true martial artist, going three full rounds and earning a win by unanimous decision. Five years later, in October, Waterson fought on her first-ever Invicta card at Invicta FC 3 and had her toughest fight to date against fellow Colorado native Lacey Schuckman. Unexpected by most predictions, the fight went the distance, which is only the second time Waterson has gone past round two.

“I was proud of myself,” admitted Waterson. “It gave me confidence that I could go the distance and that I had to entertain, and had the strength and endurance to do so.

“I learned a lot. I learned that I have to be more patient in certain situations. I felt like in the first round, I was patient enough to get through that submission, where I almost lost the fight. I learned that I do have the energy to go all three rounds, and I just need to push it from the beginning, you know, and be confident in my skills from the beginning.”

Well, it’s a good thing Waterson had the skills and energy to fend off Schuckman and pull out the split decision, because that fight was close.

Schuckman showcased her own skills on the ground and things got a little hairy for Waterson, who is admittedly more of a striker. It was a back-and-forth fight, but the Karate Hottie earned the nod of two judges, which is all she needed to pick up the win, a win that got her a shot at the Invicta atomweight strap.

“After my fight, I was visiting family, and then I catch wind of the title fight, and I’m really excited for it,” said Waterson. “I remember talking to [Invicta President] Shannon [Knapp] after my last fight with Schuckman, and I told her that sometime in the future, it was something I was interested in doing. She said we’ll talk in the future, but it looks promising.

“So, I was talking to my manager and coach [Greg] Jackson, and we’re like, ‘who’s next?’. I really had my heart set on Jessica [Penne]. So, Jahani [Curl] talked to coach Jackson and he also talked to Invicta, and then it happened! I made it happen, and it’s been kind of surreal for the last couple months.”

On April 5, Waterson will be fighting Invicta atomweight champ Jessica Penne for the title at Invicta FC 5 at Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo.

At the main event of Invicta FC 3, Penne choked out previously undefeated Naho Sugiyama for a second-round submission, and captured the first-ever Invicta atomweight belt. Penne showcased her size and strength over the Japanese fighter, and ultimately won using her dominant grappling, which was exposed as a weakness for Waterson on the same card.

However, as comes with her role as a professional martial artist, Waterson used her fight with Schuckman to focus on improvement for her upcoming fight with Penne.

“Training’s been great,” exclaimed Waterson. “I’ve been adding a lot of strength and conditioning to my camp, and a lot of jiu-jitsu. I feel stronger. I feel more confident on the ground. I feel confident, all-around, that I’m a smarter, stronger, better fighter.

“I’ve been putting some solid muscle on and making sure my nutrition is nice and clean. I’ve probably doubled up the amount of jiu-jitsu I’ve been working. I’ve been doing a lot on the ground.”

Waterson (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

It’s vitally important that Waterson be on top of her ground game come April 5, because Penne definitely excels in that arena. Of her 10 wins, Penne, a brown belt in BJJ, has finished six opponents by submission, but so has Waterson.

In fact, both fighters have 10 wins with six submissions, two knockouts and two decisions. Penne has only been topped once, by unanimous decision, while Waterson has been handed three losses in the form of one submission, one TKO and one decision.

Regardless of their respective records, Waterson is more of a striking-oriented fighter, and Penne likes the ground. However, both fighters are well-rounded and match up pretty close physically, with the biggest difference being Penne’s two-inch height advantage.

All else aside, Waterson still feels she has this title in the bag.

“Obviously, I feel like I am going to win, because, if not, then why take the fight?” Waterson asked. “I feel that I’m stronger than her, and that I’m more explosive. I understand that she’s a great fighter, but I think I can beat her.

“I see the fight going down 10 different ways in my head. For me, I’d like it to stay standing. I feel like it’s going to go all five rounds. I’m expecting a war for sure.”

If everything goes Waterson’s way, she’ll have at least one title defense in the near future. After her last fight, Invicta committed to a nice contract with the 27-year-old.

“My last fight was a one-fight contract, and when I signed the contract for this fight, we signed a three-fight deal,” Waterson revealed.

As glamorous as it will be to hold the belt, Waterson understands that with great power comes great responsibility. That responsibility means staying the champ, a next-level role she has not yet undertaken as a pro fighter.

“I was talking to coach Jackson, and he said the hard part is not being the champ, the hard part is staying the champ,” Waterson said. “When I get that belt, it’s going to be hard to keep it, because everybody’s going to be coming after me. And, I think at the point it really is, ‘who’s the next competitor?’”

In an extremely stacked atomweight division, there are plenty of challenges in Waterson’s future, but Penne is the fight she is focused on for now.

“I’m really excited, and I’m up for the challenge, and I’ve been working really hard.”

And, working hard she has, but not all of that work is just in her role as a martial artist.

Waterson (top) controls her opponent (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

Some things have changed in the last two years for this daughter, martial artist and model. The two biggest additions to her life are a marriage and a daughter of her own. This adds two new roles to her life, those of a wife and a mother.

In her role as a wife, Waterson and her husband Joshua are going through the motions of a typical young couple building a family.

“My husband and I just got our first house,” stated Waterson. “We’re kind of doing demolition on the house right now. We’re remodeling the kitchen, dining, living area, so it’s really empty right now.”

In addition to the wife role, which includes some dramatic home improvements, Waterson is also juggling the role of a mother.

“My daughter’s two-year birthday is March 18,” explained Waterson. “So, we’re going to give her a nice little two-year-old’s birthday party where she actually knows how to open the presents and blow out the candles.”

Waterson has just about all the roles a typical 27-year-old woman can handle, and then some. Between being a mother, a wife, a model and a martial artist, she has definitely earned many nicknames, in addition to “Karate Hottie.” At this point in her life, she could be “Karate Wifey,” or even better, “Karate Mommy.” But one thing’s for sure, the alias that she is most focused on earning is “Invicta champion,” and come April 5, all eyes will be on her to earn that title once and for all.

Michelle would like to thank everybody at Jackson’s—all my coaches, coach Jackson, coach Winkeljohn, coach Mike Valle: “They’re great, because they made me the person I am today.” She would also like to thank her family: “I couldn’t do it without them.” She would like to thank her husband and mom: “If it wasn’t for them, I couldn’t train.” Michelle wants to thank her sponsors, Eat-Fit By Nohime, Onnit Labs, and MMASportingGoods.com.  Finally, she would like to thank her manager, Jahani Curl, and Invicta for allowing her to showcase her skills and make a career out of fighting. Follow Waterson on Twitter: @karatehottiemma

Top Photo: Michelle Waterson (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

  • First, a correction. After I sent Mike the note, I happened on a copy of the book I mentioned, and couldn’t find the example I gave, so I don’t know where I read that.