The women’s strawweight division now takes center stage for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Team Alpha Male’s Paige VanZant will meet former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Michelle Waterson in the UFC on Fox 22 main event on Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. Meanwhile, Sage Northcutt faces fellow prospect Mickey Gall in the welterweight co-headliner. The rest of the four-fight main card features a bantamweight clash pitting the retiring Urijah Faber against Brad Pickett and a welterweight affair pairing Alan Jouban with the undefeated Mike Perry.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC on Fox 22 “VanZant vs. Waterson” matchup, with analysis and picks:
Women’s StrawweightsPaige VanZant (7-2) vs. Michelle Waterson (13-4)
THE MATCHUP: VanZant is one of the strawweight division’s biggest stars, but her popularity is as much a curse as it is a blessing. It means that time and again VanZant will be pitted against some of the best fighters in her division; and while the athletic 22-year-old has plenty of room to grow, her schedule may prevent her from ever doing so. Then again, a few more losses to the elite may be the catalyst she needs to explore other camps, because she seems to be stagnating a bit at Team Alpha Male, never a gym renowned for its mastery of the finer points.
Waterson would be a likelier pick here if she was a better defensive wrestler or even just a little bit larger. She is a dangerous striker from distance but too frequently throws herself into the clinch or gets forced into it; and while VanZant is not massive for this division, she is very physically strong --accustomed to overpowering men in training even -- and well-conditioned enough to make that strength a factor for several rounds. Waterson is a little too easy to control in the clinch and on the ground, in part because her slight frame is really best suited for atomweight, the division in which she held the Invicta Fighting Championships title. With VanZant doing her best work in positions of bodily control, she will likely find opportunities to offset Waterson’s striking advantage.
Both of these women grapple like blue belts, which is what they are. They are savvy enough to find and defend submissions but lack the discipline of more experienced grapplers. That means both women spend a lot of time scrambling and working from awkward, unsecured positions. With that being said, Waterson has been more effective with submissions throughout her career, having finished eight fights via that method. VanZant, on the other hand, is more accustomed to striking from top position. She is a keen puncher on the ground and does well to find strikes while her opponent scrambles on the floor beneath her.
While Waterson usually looks to strike from the outside and likely will here, her distance management is far from perfect. Though she possesses an impressive complement of rangy strikes, she frequently gets overeager and follows those longer strikes right into the clinch. When the opponent applies pressure, Waterson backs up quickly in a straight line, granting her opponent generalship of the cage. VanZant is not a schooled pressure fighter, per se, but she is definitely a swarmer by nature. Footwork and nuance be damned, VanZant just rushes and rushes until, sooner or later, she gets the clinch she wants. Aggression and heart are her greatest strengths.
THE ODDS: VanZant (-115), Waterson (-105)
THE PICK: VanZant worries me a little bit. I am good and ready to pick her here, but that is based on the premise of her swarming aggression. Against Bec Rawlings, VanZant debuted something new. She kickboxed from the outside and did not look particularly clean doing it -- until she landed a stunning head kick and ended the fight. If VanZant chooses to fight Waterson from range, she will likely lose. Strength, size and tenacity are the paving stones of her path to victory, and Waterson’s savvy will win out if she denies them. With that being said, the pick is VanZant by fourth-round TKO.
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