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Michelle ‘The Karate Hottie’ Waterson is a rising UFC star

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On Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, UFC strawweight Michelle "The Karate Hottie" Waterson spoke about her big win in December over Paige VanZant and how she hopes it propels her to a title shot in 2017. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware, Ryan Gerbosi

Michelle Waterson is in Brooklyn this week to support teammate Holly Holm’s bid for the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight belt at UFC 208 on Saturday at Barclays Center.

Well, that’s mostly why she’s here.

Fresh off a first-round submission win over Paige VanZant last December, Waterson also is on the cusp of becoming the UFC’s next mainstream star and is looking to capitalize.

“I think that the great thing about the UFC is that we have so many different athletes and we all appeal to different people,” Waterson said of her growing popularity. “It’s a great feeling, I’m just riding the wave.”

With just two fights in the UFC, Waterson already appeals to a wide range of fans. “The Karate Hottie” is the subject of digital media company Uninterrupted’s documentary “Fight Mom,” chronicling her journey as a fighter, wife and mother. She has a big supporter in LeBron James, who launched Uninterrupted in 2015 along with Maverick Carter.

With her star on the rise, Waterson recently signed with a talent agent from WME-IMG, which purchased the UFC last year. Waterson said her visit to New York includes meetings to explore a variety of opportunities outside the cage.

“MMA is a very short-lived sport,” Waterson said. “You have to expand your horizons and learn how to do it all in order to capitalize on everything.”

At a point in her career when she is being sought after by talent agencies, it still can seem surreal for Waterson.

“I remember getting off a Skype interview with WME and just trying to play it cool like, ‘OK, see you guys later,’” Waterson said. “Then after we hung up the Skype, we were just jumping on the bed and laughing and crying at the same time out of happiness. It’s great, we’re just enjoying the moment.”

She doesn’t have anything in the works just yet, but Waterson said she’d like to utilize her passion for teaching in some way. That passion showed during her media workout when she explained how to properly throw karate kicks in MMA. She also has shown a strong on-screen presence in her documentary, as well as her recent work as a UFC analyst for Fox Sports.

But Waterson’s most important attribute still is her ability to win.

A former Invicta FC atomweight champion, Waterson (14-4) has found a home at strawweight with a pair of submissions. Her last victory came after a 17-month layoff with a win over top-10 opponent VanZant, who was riding her own wave of stardom after finishing second on “Dancing With The Stars” earlier that year.

Waterson said she needs to remain grounded and focused on fighting first to keep her momentum going.

“I have to understand what got me here, and it’s the fighting,” Waterson said. “I continue to train every day even though I don’t have a fight coming up.”

The No. 7-ranked Waterson likely is one or two wins away from a fight for the strawweight belt, although she believes she is ready to face champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk now.

“I have to believe in myself if no one else will believe in me, and if you’re not going for the gold, then why are you fighting?” Waterson said. “I have the record, I have the experience to fight Joanna, it’s just a matter of time at this point.”

Waterson wants the title fight in 2017, whether it takes one or two wins to do it and regardless of who the UFC puts in her way.

“I’m thinking either Rose [Namajunas] or Karolina [Kowalkiewicz],” said Waterson of her potential next opponent. “Karolina just fought and the fight between her and Rose was a split decision so both of those ladies I think would be a great jumping-off point for me.”

New York Sports