Michelle Waterson is in Tampa, Fla., to compete against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC Fight Night this weekend. She hopes a win will secure her the next shot at reigning strawweight queen Weili Zhang.
Unfortunately, reports have surfaced (initially from Combate) that Jedrzejczyk is struggling to make the 116-pound limit for a non-title bout. As a result, the entire fight could be scrapped.
Waterson spoke with MMA Fighting on Wednesday and said she’s staying ready to cut weight and compete against Jedrzejczyk at strawweight this weekend. Meanwhile, her management team and the UFC continue to work to sort out the details.
“Ask Joanna – I’m ready to fight,” Waterson said emphatically when asked for the current status on her main event bout. “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.
“I know Joanna’s super professional, (and) she’s never not made weight before. My intention is to fight for the strawweight belt—not for the flyweight belt, not for the featherweight belt. The 115 belt.
“That being said, I’m here. I’m cutting weight. I’m ready to fight on Saturday. I honestly don’t know what’s going on with Joanna and her camp, and I’m staying focused. I’m letting my management team figure out the rest.”
Jedzejczyk responded sarcastically to reports of her struggling with weight, in effect telling the world not to rush to judgement.
Waterson, meanwhile, didn’t want to address rumors that Jedrzejczyk’s insistence on a catchweight could lead to the cancellation of the fight, because she’s staying ready to compete at strawweight.
As of now, Jedrzejczyk is still going through the weight cutting process, and a decision on her ability to make the 116-pound limit might not happen until late Thursday night, or early Friday morning, at the weigh-ins.
Even if the fight moves forward as scheduled, Waterson can’t help but feel the distraction the situation is causing with days remaining until the fight.
“Absolutely it’s disappointing,” Waterson said. “I think we did talk about it for a brief moment when we signed the contract. Should we put a clause in there or something, and I said no, Joanna’s never not made weight. She’s professional. This is going to happen. She’s hungry for the belt, so I only hope that she stays professional and makes the weight. I honestly don’t know what’s going on.
“She’s made the weight plenty of times. She’s fought at strawweight more than she’s fought at any other weight in the UFC. I don’t see how this would be any different. We’ve both known about this fight for quite some time, so that’s the most disheartening part of it all.”
There are numerous issues involved in accepting a catchweight, not the least of which is giving Jedrzejczyk a potential advantage by allowing her to compete at a higher weight. There are also implications for Waterson’s long term goal to fight for the strawweight title.
“I’m here to fight Joanna on Saturday,” she said. “I’ll be honest with you, what is making weight? If she comes in at the allowed 116, that’s making weight—117, 118, OK, and then I don’t know. It’s too much for me to wrap my head around. I’d rather focus on fighting her on Saturday, because that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 weeks. That’s where my head’s at.”
Perhaps the toughest part about this entire ordeal is that Waterson was confident a win over Jedrzejczyk would secure the next shot at the strawweight title, which was the reason she wanted this fight in the first place.
In her mind, there is no better way to get Zhang’s attention than going through the former five-time defending strawweight champion.
“This was the fight to set me up for the fight against Weili,” Waterson said. “I needed a fight that was going to prepare me mentally for five rounds against a top-ranked opponent, and I saw that in Joanna. She was the longest reigning strawweight champion for a reason, and I was really excited to get there with her. It’s been a dream of mine and somewhat of a check-off-the-box of opponents I wanted to fight. I hope it can happen.
“I took this fight so I could fight Weili [Zhang] next—not [Valentina] Shevchenko.”
The UFC has made no formal announcement regarding the main event clash. The promotion likely won’t make any decisions until Jedrzejczyk determines her ability or inability to make weight.
Right now, Waterson is just training and preparing for her own weight cut with Jedrzejczyk as the only opponent on her mind.
“In my mind, the fight still happens,” Waterson said. “She’s a rangy fighter, who is a volume striker. She likes to take the fight into deep waters, and I’m ready for it. I’m ready if it stays a stand up war for five rounds. I’m ready to go up against the cage. I’m ready to wrestle her, out strike her, out grapple her.
“I’m the most prepared I’ve ever been. I’m not going to let what’s going on derail me off my focus.”