Michelle Waterson (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Women’s Weekend Review: Waterson, Smith Among Winners

Let’s start by getting the formalities out of the way since this is my first article here on Combat Press. My name is Jillian DeCoursey, and if you’re not familiar with me, I will allow it this one time, but only this one time. Joking aside, I am a 4-2 professional atomweight with five of my six bouts having taken place under the Invicta FC banner.

What I plan to do here is to try to write two articles a week, one in which I will recap the weekend’s main female bouts, both from the UFC and some others, and another where I will try to preview upcoming fights. You won’t see predictions out of me, because that is not my thing. You also won’t see me be critical of a fighter; I don’t like to see critiques of myself, so I won’t do so to others. I may mention something a fighter could have possibly done, but not in critique form. I will not talk about Invicta fights, unless it is a fighter competing in a bout for another promotion where I talk about their past Invicta appearances. I also will not talk about a fight if that fight involves a teammate or training partner. As a member of the Invicta roster, it would be a conflict of interest to talk about an Invicta fight and, for obvious reasons, I won’t dissect a teammate’s bout.

Finally, I am not a writer by profession. I am a fighter who hopefully can provide some thoughts that you will want to read.


Now, this weekend we were given all kinds of female bouts by the UFC and Bellator. I don’t want to overload you, so I selected four to write about.

Leslie Smith vs. Amanda Bell (Bellator)

Leslie was coming off a loss by decision to Arlene Blencowe, while Amanda was coming off an impressive third-round stoppage of Janay Harding.

Coming into this fight, I think most had the expectation of it being a brawl — not an ugly brawl, but a good, technical brawl. If you follow me on Twitter, you saw that before the bout I said one thing about Amanda is that she seems to always get a second wind in the third round. No matter what rounds one and two held, she was always able to have a big round three. So, the key for her was to win one of the first two rounds.

What I did not expect was for Leslie to have such a ground-oriented offense. That’s not because she can’t, because Leslie is very, very good on the ground, but like many who are great on the ground, she just seems to love to stand and bang more.

Early in round one, it looked like we were going to get what was expected. Both fighters were throwing and throwing hard, with Leslie putting her head down and coming forward while Amanda looked to respond. Both did land some good shots. But after that, Leslie fought such a smart fight and decided to use that great ground game. She took Amanda down and inflicted damage when she could and looked to find submission openings.

Amanda, as one would expect, showed no quit. She got her way out of bad spots and kept fighting. Round three made me look smart, as Amanda did what I had said. She had a good round three, landed some good strikes, and really controlled the round. However, she was unable to have taken one of those first two rounds, and all three judges sided with Leslie.

I feel like Amanda, even in defeat, can take some positives from this fight. She went three hard rounds with an incredible opponent. She was put in bad positions on the ground against a great grappler, found her way out, and even took the final round. Hopefully, after she takes her time to be upset, she can see these positives and use it for momentum.

What’s next for Smith? I think at the end of the night most people had the same thoughts. Cat Zingano won her fight later in the evening over Gabrielle Holloway. Both Leslie and Cat are now at featherweight, both are names, and a fight between the two would be fun and make sense. Leslie has said that this would be a fight she would like.

Sabina Mazo vs. Justine Kish (UFC)

Sabina was coming in riding a two-fight winning streak, with her most recent victory coming over JJ Aldrich in January. Justine ended a two-fight skid with a win over Lucie Pudilová.

Going in, one would think if it stays up, Sabina is going to hold the advantage, whereas, on the ground, it would be Justine. However, Justine does not care about your logic. In the first two rounds, her stand-up looked better than ever. She did a great job of being first. She landed hard, quick punches and kicks and got out before Mazo could do much damage in return. That’s not to say Mazo didn’t do anything, as she did land some of her own, but this is what made those first two rounds so impressive for Justine. She withstood those shots and still kept coming forward. Mazo did seem a bit hesitant at times, perhaps because she was cautious of the takedown that some — or at least I — thought was coming.

With likely two rounds in the bag, again, if you follow my Twitter, you saw me say Justine might want to look for the takedown and keep the fight there to seal the decision. Well, she also doesn’t care about my opinions. She kept it on the feet and was again actually having success. However, when you tempt fate for too long, sometimes fate strikes back. Sabina landed a beautiful kick to the head that dropped Justine. Before you knew it, Sabina was on Justine’s back. With about one minute left, Sabina got a rear-naked choke for the tap.

Justine did show something in this fight, though. She had improved striking and is a very well-rounded fighter who is trouble for anyone.

What’s next for Mazo? She will surely like to fight a ranked opponent and try to move up. How about Alexa Grasso? Alexa just made her return to the cage with a win and is ranked 14th as I am writing this. I think that could possibly be a good challenge for Sabina.

Sijara Eubanks vs. Julia Avila (UFC)

Julia came into this one looking for her third UFC win in as many fights, including a 22-second finish over Gina Mazany in her last outing. Sijara was coming off a win over Sarah Moras that ended a two-fight skid.

All the attention was coming Julia’s way, and with good reason. She had suffered only one defeat in her career, which was due to a hand injury at Invicta FC 29 against Marciea Allen. While logic might have seemed to dictate another win coming her way, logic also should have said not to discount Sijara, a tough and confident fighter who has never been finished in her career.

In the opening moments, it looked as though Julia might score another quick win. She came forward with an onslaught of punches that had Sijara on her heels. Sijara was able to hold up, get her bearings, and go to work on what she does best. They traded takedowns in the first frame, but that initial onslaught from Julia won her the round.

From then on, it was all about Sijara. In round two, she got it to the ground and inflicted serious damage, enough to earn a 10-8 round and nearly finish the fight. Going into round three, both fighters’ strategies were probably fairly obvious. Julia would be best served to keep it on the feet and try to replicate the beginning of round one. For Sijara, round two showed her she can dominate this on the ground and would be smart to go right back to that well.

Pretty quickly, Sijara’s strategy won out. She got it down, and while not as severely as in round two, she dished out punishment. Julia attempted escapes, and as the round was coming to an end, she looked for submissions from the bottom. Unfortunately, she was not in the proper position to pull any of those off, and Sijara walked away with the decision.

What’s next for Eubanks? Perhaps someone like Pannie Kianzad. Going into this fight, Pannie was slightly ahead of her in the rankings and is coming off a July win over Bethe Correia. Stylistically, I think that could make for an interesting fight. As far as rankings go, it makes some sense.

Michelle Waterson vs. Angela Hill (UFC)

Before we get into things, let me first make a point to say just how incredible this fight was. There were naysayers who didn’t think this was worthy of being a main event, but these two ladies showed why they are worthy of headliner status.

Angela is the definition of “better than her record indicates.” When she does lose, it is almost always a decision and a close fight, such as her most recent bout before this one, a decision loss to Claudia Gadelha that many thought she won.

Michelle has fought one of the hardest schedules you will ever see in the sport. She’s clashed with fighters like Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza. She was on a two-fight skid, but where is the shame in losing to fighters named Jędrzejczyk and Esparza?

The likely thinking for this bout would be that Angela would have the advantage on the feet and Michelle on the ground. However, Michelle did say things in some interviews that would lead you to believe she might have intentions of throwing caution to the wind and slugging it out.

The early rounds saw Michelle willing to stand with Angela outside of some semi-shots at takedowns where she was not on the better end of it. Angela was landing very well and doing some damage to Michelle’s face. She kept the pressure on and seemed to have a speed advantage, which helped her land first and more often. Michelle did have some moments herself and was doing really well, ending combos with some nice leg kicks.

Finally, in round three, Michelle was able to get it to the ground and have a really good round to seize the momentum. From there on, we saw a lot of back-and-forth action. Both fighters were able to do things, and we saw some very close and exciting rounds. Two of the three judges sided with Michelle. It seemed as though for most people it came down to how you scored round five. It was an incredible fight that showed that both fighters belonged in that main-event slot.

What’s next for Waterson? I would be interested to see her face the winner of the bout between Claudia Gadelha and Xiaonan Yan. Gadelha is ranked just ahead of her, and Yan just behind her (and Yan would surely move up with a win over Gadelha). So, they’re pretty close in the rankings, which would make a logical fight for the winner to move up closer to title contention.