The road to Michelle Waterson’s co-main event against Rose Namajunas has been an interesting one, with everything looking a lot different for “The Karate Hottie” since she debuted in the Octagon in the summer of 2015, picking up a third-round submission win over Angela Magana.

With the strawweight division still in its infancy back then and boasting a stellar reputation built through nearly a decade spent building her name on the regional circuit, Waterson’s victory instantly positioned her as one to watch in the 115-pound ranks. A few months later, she signed to fight Tecia Torres at UFC 194 on December 12 in Las Vegas, but an injury forced her off the year’s final pay-per-view card, delaying her sophomore appearance under the UFC banner.

It would be 371 days before Waterson returned to the cage, but she made up for her year-and-a-half on the sidelines in impressive fashion, rolling into Sacramento and running through hometown darling Paige VanZant in a little over three minutes.

“You know, I have a lot of teammates that have been through it all, the ups and the downs, so I’m able to view them as examples and just make sure that I stay grounded and all that good stuff,” Waterson said when asked about dealing with the frustrations of being sidelined. “You kind of just have to roll with the punches.

“Every fight is different, everybody’s journey is different and I strongly believe that my year-and-a-half off was needed in order for me to be the fighter that I am today. I feel great and we’re just going to build off this momentum and continue to move forward.”

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