It was closer than she would have liked, but UFC strawweight Michelle Waterson is back in the win column after she outlasted Angela Hill throughout five tense rounds inside the UFC's Apex facility in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Both fighters had moments of ascendency in the 25-minute battle. Hill began the sharper of the two, aggressively pushing forward and repeatedly finding a home for an overhand right which, by the end of the first frame, had left visible signs of damage on Waterson's face.
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"The Karate Hottie" appeared refocused in the second, answering many of Hill's blows with precise shots of her own - but she soon found herself on the back foot once more when she was hit with another right hand which looked, for a spell at least, as it may hasten the end of the fight.
In the third, and with a steady trickle of blood now coming from her nose, Waterson secured a takedown where she posed problems to a prone Hill on the mat, though none of Waterson's submission attempts proved decisive.
You should be very proud. Very highly skilled fight, none stop action. We were all on our feet. Hold your head high angela. That was amazing. ???????? https://t.co/9gY0oFJ6Ep— michael (@bisping) September 13, 2020
When the fight entered the championship rounds, though, the tide began to turn. Waterson's output and tempo increased, forcing Hill to fight continuously on the back-foot as Waterson landed several high volume strikes, including an array of karate-style side-kicks to the body and head.
Both fighters threw caution to the win in the final frame, with Hill the aggressor and Waterson the sharper in the counter exchanges. And, as the seconds ticked towards the finish, the fight ended in a hail of punches in a wild final exchange before they embraced in the middle of the cage upon the final bell.
The knife-edge decision could have gone either way but was ultimately awarded to Waterson by split decision.
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"I was confident [about the result]," Waterson said after the fight. "But we talked about this the whole time leading up to the fight, you never want to leave it in the hands of the judges."
And as for what's next? Waterson has just one trajectory in mind.
"Whoever’s the next contender to fight for the belt," she declared.
"I want to get to the belt as fast as possible."