Michelle Waterson peaking as she heads into short-notice bout

LAS VEGAS — Taking a five-round main event on short notice would be problem for most fighters, even the most well-conditioned ones.

But after what Michelle Waterson went through in March, five, five-minute rounds against Marina Rodriguez, one of the finest strawweight fighters in the world, will by comparison be a breeze.

Just for fun, Waterson participated along with her husband, Joshua Gomez, in the David Goggins’ 4x4x48 challenge in early March. Goggins is the former Navy SEAL who is an author, motivational speaker and ultra marathon runner.

He created the 4x4x48 challenge, which means that those who do it have to run four miles every four hours for a 48-hour period. That equates to 48 miles over two days.

Even for a world-class professional fighter used to doing road work, that’s a chore.

“Before this, I had goals when the year started to do something adventurous, something challenging each month that was outside my comfort zone,” Waterson said. “Just out of the blue with no training, I wanted to do David Goggins’ 4x4x48. I’m not a runner, and I wasn’t prepared for it, but we did it and we finished it and I was so proud of myself.

“At that point, I realized that if I decided to follow through on something, that I could pretty much do anything.”

And so when the UFC was looking to replace the main event for UFC Vegas 26 at Apex on Saturday, Waterson had no hesitation in accepting the fight with Rodriguez and having it be a five-rounder.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 12: (R-L) Michelle Waterson kicks Angela Hill in a strawweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 12, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

(R-L) Michelle Waterson kicks Angela Hill in a strawweight fight at Apex on Sept. 12, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Waterson, who is ranked ninth among strawweights and coming off a win over Angela Hill, loved the experience of what was clearly a grueling exercise.

“I knew it would be taxing on my body, but we didn’t have anything scheduled and I wanted to challenge my mind and challenge my body and, man, it was killer,” she said. “It was awesome. What it is is that your mind decides, ‘OK, you’re doing this,’ and you go into this zen flow and you’re on autopilot and you know you have to get it done.

“The only thing I can really compare it to is childbirth. There is no getting away from that pain. You have to go through the pain in order to have the baby and the same was true of finishing this [run].”

She expects a competitive bout with the sixth-ranked Rodriguez, who is a Muay Thai fighter. Waterson is confident and said she could envision many different outcomes, with it ranging from her winning a five-round stand-up battle to her submitting Rodriguez in the first round.

Waterson is one of many UFC fighters whose résumé is filled with killers. She’s had nothing but fights against the best strawweights in the world for several years now, and she knows what it takes to win at the highest level.

She’s 6-4 in the UFC but the experience she’s gained in fighting the best has left her believing that her goal of winning a world title as a mother is still attainable.

She defeated Hill coming off back-to-back losses to former champions Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Carla Esparza with the pressure on her.

“I’ve always said, and I may be biased, but the strawweight division is super stacked and every girl from No. 1 to even outside of the Top 10 and down to 15 are very high-level martial artists who are well-rounded on what they do,” she said. “They’re all very technical, very explosive, very game fighters.

“Any fighter needs to understand, but especially in MMA that there are so many different ways to win or lose. If you allow your failures to bog you down, that’s exactly what they’ll do: They’ll be a weight on you. That will prohibit you from performing at your best. In the UFC, the commentators and the analysts are forgiving of the records because they do understand that on any given day, any one of these fighters can beat one of the others.”

They are all, she said, tough fights.

But as hard as those fights were and may in the future be, not too much is going to top the physical and mental challenges that running four miles every four hours for a 48-hour period brought. She did that successfully, so Waterson has proven she’s one never to count out.

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