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Michelle Waterson UFC Top 10 photos and video online | Real life

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(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

After a year had gone by with no fight and no payday, Michelle Waterson started thinking that maybe the thing to do was give up fighting for a while and try to get pregnant again.

She didn’t want her 3-year-old daughter to be an only child, she explains, and the longer she sat around waiting for an opponent to challenge for her Invicta FC 105-pound title, the more she began to lose hope.

“All those things go through your mind,” Waterson (11-3), who takes on Yasuko Tamada (15-8-3) at Invicta FC 8 in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass), tells USA TODAY Sports. “I feel like fighting is such a sacrifice on your body and on your family. If you’re just training with nothing in front of you, sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated. I started thinking, man, if I’d known I was going to be out this long, I could have had another baby already.”

Two things kept her from abandoning the fight game for a return to the maternity ward. The first was her husband, Joshua Gomez, who had given up a boxing career of his own to take a job as a financial advisor in order to support the family while Waterson continued fighting – a career move that “just made sense,” Gomez says, “because Michelle is a hundred times better fighter than I ever was.”

The problem was, as the atomweight champ in the all-women’s MMA organization Invicta FC, opportunities for Waterson to fight and get paid were few and far between. In slightly more than two years of operations, the Kansas City-based Invicta FC has held only seven events, all of which streamed online.

Waterson wasn’t the only one wondering if there was a viable future there. But the other thing that kept her going, she says, was the announcement that Invicta was partnering with the UFC to stream its events on the UFC Fight Pass digital network as part of a multi-year deal.

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“That was great to hear, because I feel like the relationship between Invicta and UFC Fight Pass is going to allow Invicta to have more cards, more opportunities,” Waterson says.

That’s the plan, according to Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp, who says the Fight Pass deal already has her thinking about trying to squeeze two more events in before the end of 2014, with “no fewer than six” planned for 2015.

According to Knapp, after the Internet stream of Invicta’s December event crashed yet another online paywall, she realized she “had to pull the trigger on something.” She’d been approached by other fight promotions, such as Bellator MMA and WSOF, she said, as well as several TV networks, but she still had reservations.

“I always made the commitment to the fans that, no matter where you are, you’ll be able to see our fights,” Knapp says. “Well, you start talking to networks and all of a sudden you’ve got something that works in the United States, but doesn’t address all the fans outside the country. With Fight Pass, they’re in 166 countries, and it’s a broadcast distribution deal, which means this event will also be broadcast in Latin America on the UFC Network.”

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That’s good news for fighters like Waterson. After struggling to get fights and get seen, she’s hoping Invicta FC’s alliance with the UFC will not only lead to more opportunities to step in the cage, but also to more recognition outside of it. (The UFC currently only offers 115- and 135-pound women’s divisions.)

“I think a lot really depends on how this event goes,” Waterson says. “Hopefully this will allow Invicta to have more cards so I can fight more regularly. Then this can actually be a career for me.”

As for their future children, Waterson’s husband Gomez insists there’s still plenty of time for that – but not just yet.

“Her job right now,” Gomez says, “is to be the champ.”

For more on Invicta FC 8, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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