MMA Ratings Podcast

October 11, 2019

Weight For It: Michelle Waterson Stands Up For Herself Amid Drama Surrounding UFC Tampa Main Event

By Raphael Garcia

Weight management is an important aspect of combat sports. Changing weight classes can be the difference between a competitor becoming a champion, versus merely being just able to break into the top ten. Although the most common example of weight management is moving down in weight, UFC strawweight Michelle Waterson is one of a few fighters that have found a way to remain successful in the Octagon even while competing against larger opponents; she has competed at atomweight (105 pounds) for much of her career. Therefore, the situation she faced this week involving Joanna Jedrzejczyk and her weight was one in which she had to draw a line and stand firm. Whether or not she will come out on top this weekend is up in the air, but Waterson's first battle has already occurred, well before she steps into the Octagon at UFC on ESPN+ 19.

For those outside of the know, news broke this week via Raphael Marinho of Combate that Jedrzejczyk had concerns about her weight cut to the non-title strawweight limit of 116 pounds. According to the report, there was a discussion around this weekend's main event being changed to a catchweight bout, a fight that Waterson was not a fan of taking. This was confirmed to Damon Martin of MMA Fighting by Waterson:

“I heard that Joanna was having trouble making weight and that she wanted to renegotiate the contract at 120 [pounds]. I took this fight under the assumption that we were both in contention for the strawweight belt, and to me, that’s a very serious undertaking. There’s only a couple things you have to do as a fighter, and one of them is make weight.”

Waterson also appeared on Luke Thomas’s Sirius XM show to discuss the impact of the weight change on her ability to compete:

“My last fight, the next day I weighed in I believe, around 127 or 128; I don’t remember exactly. Here’s the thing; if she can’t make weight now, what’s going to be the difference later? For her to break down last week to say 'hey, let’s change the weight' tells me she’s been killing herself for some time. I was really excited to face Joanna and I hope it still happens.”

Looking at the UFC's strawweight rankings, its clear why this fight is so important to Waterson. If there was ever a path for her to get to a title shot, this bout against Jedrzejczyk is it. This weight cut, along with her most recent performances, have created a lot of skepticism around the former champion's place in the division. Waterson’s biggest win to date is over Karolina Kowalkiewicz, a former title challenger. Defeating a former champion in Jedrzejczyk puts her on the short list of women that can quickly face the newly-crowned champion, Weili Zhang.

Reportedly, Waterson was given two additional options if she did not take the catchweight fight: either fight a new strawweight opponent or face Jessica Andrade next month at UFC 244. This is troubling for a number of reasons. As a combat sports athlete, you spend an entire camp focusing on the strategy to defeat one opponent. To have all of that changed last minute creates a serious risk to a person’s chances of winning. However, in the UFC, fighters have no power to push back against such demands. If Waterson turned down either option, there’s a good chance she would have been held out of the title picture indefinitely and had her contract extended, limiting her time to pursue other opportunities. At 33 years old, Waterson doesn’t have time on her side.

Luckily, Joanna Jedrzejczyk made weight at 115.5 pounds and the UFC on ESPN+ 19 main event is stil expected to take place. But the developments leading to this outcome are still worth the concern. For Michelle Waterson and every other fighter on the UFC roster, they don’t have the ability to say “no” to the promotion without it having a long-term impact on their careers. It’s bend to the UFC’s demand or face the consequences. Size has been an issue for all of Waterson’s UFC battles, and it was expected to be the case here as well. But with everything on the line for this fight, her battle with the UFC couldn't have been any more of a mismatch, but she took it on anyway.

UFC on ESPN+ 19
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson

UFC on ESPN+ 19: Joanna vs. Waterson takes place October 12, 2019 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN+ 19 Pre-Fight Analysis

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