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Combat sports: Waterson confident for VanZant bout

Last month, Paige VanZant was revealed as the runner-up with her partner in the latest season of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Saturday in Sacramento, Calif., Michelle Waterson will seek to make VanZant a runner-up once again.

Waterson (13-4), an Albuquerque MMA fighter, will take on VanZant (7-2) in the strawweight (115-pound) main event of UFC on Fox 22 at Golden 1 Center.

The experience factor strongly favors Waterson, who is frank in her assessment of VanZant’s skill level: several notches below her own.

Waterson grew up in Colorado Springs studying karate. It’s a no surprise VanZant excelled on”Dancing With the Stars,” since she grew up in Oregon as a dancer and turned to martial arts some five years ago.

“It’s nothing out of disrespect,” Waterson said this week in a phone interview. “It’s just an observation. It’s me being a martial artist for 20 years and her not.”

The rust factor, though, would appear to favor VanZant. Even with an eight-month hiatus that included taping of the TV show, she has fought three times since Waterson last entered the cage in July 2015.

A knee injury and a twice-broken right hand have sidelined Waterson since a victory by third-round submission (rear naked choke) over Angela Magana in her UFC debut.

This, though, is not Waterson’s first idle spell. She was out of the cage from April 2010 until January 2012, a span during which she gave birth to her daughter, Araya.

On that occasion, she returned with a first-round submission victory (rear naked choke) against Diana Rael on a Jackson’s MMA Series card at Isleta Casino Hotel.

The most recent time off forced by injury, Waterson said, was more difficult than the break she took for Araya’s entry into the world. Waterson is older now (30), and so is Araya (5).

“The only thing I thought about,” she said, “was the fact that I’m not only a fighter. I’m also a mother, I’m also a wife, and I have obligations there as well.

“As a fighter, you have to be very selfish, and it’s very time-consuming. … It’s not just you that sacrifices, because your family doesn’t spend as much time with you, or as much quality time with you, because you’re in the gym training.”

But Waterson’s husband, Josh Gomez, is a former amateur and pro boxer who understands the needs and the mindset of a fighter.

“(Gomez) believes in me and believes in my ability to climb to the top, and he didn’t allow (retirement) to cross my mind,” she said. “We pushed forward and hunkered down together and continued to train.”

Araya, meanwhile, is old enough to understand what mom does for a living.

“She watches the fights with us, and she tries to give me tips on fighting,” Waterson said, laughing. “It’s pretty cool.”

Waterson’s time out of competition, she said, was not time out of the gym with her Jackson-Wink coaches and teammates. As much as her injuries would allow, she continued to train while her hand was healing.

Training under certain physical restrictions, she said, has its advantages.

“You always have to adapt from the different injuries that happen to your body throughout your career,” she said. “There are a lot of other things that we began to work on, and in a sense we were able to allow my fight game to evolve and develop.

“I feel like I’ve been able to get to another level.”

COWBOY, PIT BULL: Jackson-Wink teammates Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Andrei “Pit Bull” Arlovski have been added to UFC on Fox 23 in Denver on Jan. 28.

Cerrone (32-7), fresh off his victory by third-round KO (head kick) over Matt Brown last Saturday, is matched against Jorge Masvidal (31-11) in a welterweight fight.

Arlovski (25-13), a heavyweight, has lost his last three fights. He’ll try to snap that streak against Frenchman Francis Ngannou, who’s coming off a win by first-round submission (kimura) over Jackson-Wink’s Anthony Hamilton on Dec. 9.

MALDONADO FIGHT OFF: Boxer Antonio Orozco, who was to have faced Albuquerque’s Fidel Maldonado Jr. tonight for the vacant WBC International super lightweight title, fainted Thursday morning from apparent dehydration. The fight has been scrubbed.

The bout was to have been televised on HBO Latino.

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