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Waterson impresses in her UFC debut

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – And now, the ‘Karate Hottie’ can sleep.

For the past 10 weeks, while the buzz grew and she flashed that million dollar smile during interview after interview in advance of her UFC debut, Albuquerque’s Michelle Waterson didn’t show nerves.

But they were there.

Sunday night in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, short of what she called “a hiccup” in the first round, you could hardly tell. Waterson was mostly dominant in defeating Angela Magana in their strawweight showdown, submitting the Farmington-based fighter with a rear naked choke 2:38 into the third round.

“I can’t tell you how many nights I stayed up thinking about this fight,” said Waterson, who trains at Jackson-Wink MMA. “That’s all my mind was on for the last eight to 10 weeks. Now, for it to be over, and for me to be able to take a breath of fresh air, is nice.”

MORE READING: ‘Karate Hottie’ has plenty of support as she makes UFC debut

While Waterson (13-4) has no plans for what’s next in her mixed martial arts career, and she’ll first have to address a severely swollen, possibly broken right hand, others see her on the UFC fast track.

Her husband and coach Joshua Gomez, who was in her corner Sunday, knows that could be on the horizon and thinks she is ready.

“She’s embraced it,” Gomez said. “There are very few people that can be built that way. I think Michelle is built for this. If you know her personally, she has one of the most beautiful personalities. What you see is what you get.”

What fans at The Ultimate Fighter Finale fight card (aired on Fox Sports 1) saw was a well-rounded attack from Waterson. She first survived a vicious kick from Magana and then an arm bar attempt before settling down.

“In the first round I had a bad case of the octagon jitters,” Waterson said. “They started to go away in the second and by the third I finally found my rhythm. I think I needed her to try to submit me to wake me up and make me realize I was in a fight.”

Overcoming that early adversity pleased coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, the latter saying he’d give her a B-plus for the fight.

“It’s tough to be perfect,” said Winkeljohn. “An ‘ A ‘ might have been an early finish where she just destroyed the girl, but this played out better for us. It taught us a lot about her. It taught her a lot about herself.”

Magana (11-8) said she regretted fighting with a broken rib, but “I didn’t want to be one of those fighters who pulls out and doesn’t put on a show for the fans.”

Two of the three judges had the fight scored 20-18 in Waterson’s favor heading into the third round. A third judge scored it 20-17.

Her coaches think it was an overhand right Waterson connected on in the second round that injured her hand, though she said she honestly doesn’t remember when it happened.

“I don’t know. I was in the zone,” Waterson said before taking a jab at recent criticism of her being too small to be a force as a strawweight. “You know I’ve got these little dainty hands.”

Her move from her previous 105-pound atomweight division, where she was Invicta FC champion, to the new 115-pound strawweight division in UFC, didn’t seem to bother her Sunday.

She can rest assured another big UFC opportunity is coming soon.