The “Karate Hottie” returns to the octagon for the first time in 2022 after a canceled bout in March with Amanda Ribas. The Freestyle Karate black belt last competed inside the cage in 2021 in a losing bid to Marina Rodriguez, but prior to that, winning over Angela Hill. It is important to note, however, that this Saturday, her fight will also mark her return to strawweight after competing with Rodriguez 10 pounds north of her natural size. She will be putting her #10 ranking on the line against Amanda Lemos, who sits hungrily just below her at #11.
Lemos, a power-house in the division, last lost to former champion Jessica Andrade. Although eventually tapping to a head-and-arm choke, Lemos proved to the world she could be competitive at a championship level, seemingly outworking Andrade up to the finish. With a winning streak of five just before this she is a surging contender who must get through the veteran fighter in Waterson if she wants to bounce back on track.
Waterson will come in as the heavy underdog at +360 against the rising Lemos.
This fight is fascinating. Largely it is the speed and kicks of Waterson vs. the power and boxing of Lemos. Waterson stands in both stances, however lately favoring southpaw. When leading with her left or right we typically see a Muay Thai stance but the difference is the arsenal of strikes from orthodox tend to mimic a more traditional kickboxing game while when leading with her right we get her Karate roots. Her greatest strength is her ability to throw the lead leg from here as if a jab, stinging her opponents with quick snap kicks up high and digging sidekicks to the body, knee and even face. To the body these kicks tend to act a stopper for any forward momentum her opponent may be gaining. However, outside of her kicks, she has had difficulty landing with enough power to cause enough damage to dissuade her opponents’ pressure. She has accurate and technical boxing, but outside of the odd check right behind her kicks, her punches don’t usually have enough sting to them, which allows her opponents to eat shots and return.
This is especially dangerous considering the power of Lemos, who not only hits with surprising power for the division, but also enjoys a reach allowing her to tag her opponents from one step outwards. She is extremely accurate with her straights and hooks, although usually only throws one or two shots a time. She is not a volume hitter, but normally doesn’t need to land much to get the reaction she wants. She also has devastating low kicks, however because Waterson stands so narrow in her stance and keeps a light lead leg for kicks, she also has a greater capacity to check Lemos’ kicks. What Lemos will be most likely looking to do on the feet is throw her shots over Waterson’s body kicks to land the counter. At the same time, it is important for Waterson to not throw her kicks naked, and instead set them up with feints and punches to get Lemos moving back while Waterson lands with the legs.
In general, both women pose problems for one another one the feet, if Waterson gets the better here, it will be a matter of outpointing Lemos with tricky and elusive movement and kicks, with the odd straight left or check hook behind her legs. If Lemos wins on the feet, it will be a matter of damage, and I do believe the latter is more likely based on their most recent performances. This is likely why the odds have been stacked against Waterson.
In terms of grappling is where it gets interesting, Lemos has a very heavy top game with vicious ground and pound that matches up to her power standing. However, her ability to scramble and fight off her back is where questions can arise when fighting someone with the experience and submission prowess of Waterson. It’s likely that Lemos will be the one pushing the forward pressure, and so it would be wise for Waterson to mix in reactive takedowns after giving ground. Against Marina Rodriguez, a reactive outside trip from double underhooks largely turned the tide in what seemed like a fight that Waterson was quickly losing. Her top game is just as if not stronger than Lemos, she has a heavy base, and good knee cut passes, however not the same potential for damaging ground and pound. That being said, her ability to transition to the back or onto an armbar when her opponents try to escape is a massive weapon in her game.
It absolutely makes sense that Lemos is the favorite in this match-up. While there is little to criticize technically for Waterson, she has fallen victim to being bullied in the octagon by more powerful fighters over the last few years, and Lemos of everyone is one of the most dangerous to trade with.
However, I believe it truly comes down to the game plan; if Waterson can force Lemos to react to her kicks or at least the threat of them, I believe that openings for her reactive takedowns can materialize. Lemos is also known for slowing down when she cannot execute a finish early and so using her kicks to slow the tempo of the fight until her experience can really show itself is imperative for Waterson.
On the mat, I believe the submission will be there, Lemos has shown a great top game, but she has also shown some holes on the bottom and when defending submissions.
Prediction: Michelle Waterson by decision or submission (+360 odds to win at MyBookie)