As skillfully as Michelle Waterson handles interviews as an MMA fighter, a career on the side as an MMA commentator seemed like a natural progression.
And guess what? It is.
Waterson, who lives and trains in Albuquerque at Jackson-Wink MMA, will be in the studio for Fox Sports tonight in Los Angeles for analysis of UFC 225 in Chicago. Her Jackson-Wink teammate and close friend, Holly Holm, is on the card.
Waterson is no longer a rookie broadcaster. She made her Fox debut in January 2017, and this will be her third appearance. She’ll be working tonight with host Karyn Bryant and retired UFC fighters Kenny Florian and Michael Bisping.
The TV gig, Waterson said this week in a phone interview, was a move she’d had in mind for a while.
“It’s just something that I’ve always been interested in, trying to lead into a career when I’m done fighting,” Waterson said. “I think it’s important to get those (initial) steps put in now, as I’m still an active fighter.”
Analyzing fights and fighters, she said, is something she’s been doing her entire combat-sports career.
“I really do enjoy watching fights,” she said. “That’s been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. I want to continue to learn and grow and evolve, even after I’m done fighting. So, I think getting behind the desk is the next evolution of that phase.”
After her debut 16 months ago, working a card in Denver headlined by Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Peña, Waterson was dubbed “a natural” by one MMA website. But she did, she admitted, have first-night jitters.
The jitters have not completely vanished.
“Oh my gosh, it’s so nerve-wracking,” she said. “… I come in (at the gym in Albuquerque) and I talk the fight game with Holly and Jon Jones and all the guys throughout the gym, but then you get in studio and the camera’s pointing at you and you’re going live, and it’s a whole ‘nother animal.
“It does take a lot of practice and I’m fortunate enough at Fox in having me back, and I absolutely love doing it.”
Providing objective pre-fight and postfight analysis of Holm’s fight against Megan Anderson, Waterson, acknowledged, will be a challenge. In fact, she’s not even pretending to be totally objective.
The trade-off, she said, is the inside knowledge she brings to the task – not just regarding Holm, but about current Jackson-Wink teammate Alistair Overeem and former J-W fighters Andrei Arlovsky, Rashad Evans and Clay Guida. They’re all fighting on tonight’s card.
Of the Holm-Anderson matchup, Waterson said, “I know how hard of a worker Holly is, and I just feel like Holly’s experience and work ethic is going to trump Megan Anderson.”
As of Friday, Holm was approximately a 2-to-1 betting favorite. But overconfidence, Waterson said, is a problem “The Preacher’s Daughter” will not have.
“I understand Holly’s mentality as a fighter, and she never underestimates any of her opponents,” she said. “She knows that she herself has gone in as a huge underdog and with less experience, and she won against Ronda Rousey.”
Her experience as a commentator, Waterson believes, has helped her as fighter. Current fighters who serve as analysts, she feels – like UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and Bisping, before his recently announced retirement – have benefited in the Octagon.
“When you start to break down fights and analyze other fighters, it forces you to (consider) things that you’re not expert at,” she said. “You become a student again.”
At 32, Waterson (15-6) is by no means pondering retirement. Coming off a victory by split decision over Cortney Casey in April, ranked by the UFC as the No. 7 challenger to strawweight champion Rose Namajunas’ title, she expects to be back in the cage before the year is out.
“I’m just enjoying the summer, being with family, trying to take care of some things outside of fighting,” she said. “As a fighter, nothing specific.
“I’d like to fight in September, but other than that I’m just doing things (in the gym) to improve my skills all around.”