DETROIT, Mich. — UFC strawweight contender Michelle Waterson’s dalliances with the entertainment industry have only reminded her how much she appreciates her day job.
From appearances on MTV reality shows to rubbing shoulders with comedian Steve Harvey to baring it all for ESPN’s annual Body Issue, “The Karate Hottie” is the rare mixed martial artist whose profile only seems to grow between fights.
On Saturday, Waterson (14-5) looks to bounce back from an April loss to Rose Namajunas when she takes on Tecia Torres (9-1) in the main card opener of UFC 218 at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich. Whether Waterson wins or not, she’s shown that she has options outside of the Octagon, though she’s not in any major hurry to pursue them.
For Waterson, it all comes back to fighting at the end of the day.
“I feel like being a fighter, when I get out there and I do the ESPN thing and I do the reality shows and the movies, it makes me realize how much energy and sacrifice it really does take to be a fighter,” Waterson told MMA Fighting at a media session on Wednesday. “It’s not a glamorous sport at all, a lot of people think that you’re a fighter, it’s like this rockstar lifestyle, and to me it’s not. It’s the grind. It’s having to push yourself, having to break yourself mentally and build yourself back up everyday.
“I feel like because I’m fighting now, whatever I decide to do when I’m done fighting is going to be so easy because fighting is just so hard and taxing on you physically, mentally, spiritually. It might be a mixture of both. When I’m done fighting, I’ll have a little sigh of relief, but fighting now is a motivation for me to be as driven when I’m not fighting.”
Considering the mainstream appeal that Waterson has, you’d think that the UFC would be eager to employ her as an ambassador in its ongoing mission to expand globally, but the New Mexico-based fighter has never actually competed outside of the United States.
Waterson is of Thai descent and she’s looking forward to eventually fighting at a show overseas, with the continent of Asia being a preferred landing spot.
“I was pushing for a while to get on the Shanghai card,” Waterson said. “They flew me out to Singapore just for a media scrum and we’re trying to build up the card that Holly (Holm) was on and I had a blast out there. I got to go to Singapore, I got to go to Malaysia, I would love to fight internationally especially in Asia.
“I know that they’re pumping the international market, we just got a whole influx of Chinese, Mongolian, and Indian fighters at (the Jackson Wink gym). Some of them we’ve become really close with, we actually have some of our coaches going out there to train their guys out there. It will happen, I’m just being patient with it.”
For now, Waterson has to be content with spreading the gospel of MMA back home through her fights and the cardio kickboxing classes she runs, which her six-year-old daughter Araya regularly takes part in.
Waterson also has a strong social media presence, with over 420,000 followers on Instagram, many of whom have been treated to videos featuring “Master Yai Yai,” a caricature based on her mother that allows Waterson to show her comedic chops and more of the outgoing personality that has kept producers calling.
When your mom keeps tabs on you through Instagram #masteryaiyai #believemasteryaiyai #masteryaiyaiknow but on a serious note… I’m walking around between 132-134 and I’m healthy and happy and training everyday! Plus my husband likes me thick work hard and enjoy life y’all. Love you Master Yai Yai jup jup
Master Yai Yai has been noticeably absent over the past couple of months, but fortunately it has nothing to do with Waterson’s mom being upset over her daughter’s goofy impression of her.
“No, she thinks it’s hilarious,” said Waterson. “The only reason why I haven’t done it is because all my energy has been focused into training camp and I haven’t had time. I don’t know if people realize how much time goes into trying to develop a good social media feed and giving good content, but when you’re in the mix at camp and you’re training four or five times a day and you have a kid and you’re moving into a new house and you’re dealing with family issues, the social media takes a backseat.”