It was understandable that Michelle Waterson was a big favorite to defend her title at Invicta FC 10 against Herica Tiburcio. In her time at Invicta FC the only fighter who has given her much of a challenge was the former champion and current TUF 20 semifinalist Jessica Penne. In her most recent defense against the aging legend Yasuko Tamada, Waterson became the first fighter to stop the ultra-tough Tamada.
It was in the Penne fight that we learned that Waterson is at least double jointed as Penne had her in a deep armbar that bent Waterson’s arm back unnaturally. Not only was the arm fine, but later in the fight Waterson got the finish by armbar herself. While Invicta FC fans were familiar with Waterson, the same was not true for Tiburcio.
This fight was Tiburcio’s first outside of Brazil. She had a nice record coming into the fight but mostly against unknowns. The combined record of her last two opponents is 8-8. The biggest accomplishment of note before this win was going the distance with UFC strawweight title contender Claudia Gadelha. Most fans and experts were expecting her to be tough and likely to go the distance but few were giving her much chance to win the fight.
One of the beautiful things about a fight is all of the talk, all of the opinions of others go away and it is about what happens in the fight itself. For some fighters they just need that chance for the world to see their greatness. In this case, Tiburcio found herself facing a formidable champion in Waterson. She used the moment to show the world that she too is a champion.
How Tiburcio won the belt
The first round was back and forth with Tiburcio slightly gaining an edge through her power. Waterson had landed a couple of solid kicks but had not slowed Tiburcio much until she scored a nice hip-toss takedown into full-mount. From that position she went to work scoring and looking to remain in the dominant position. With just under a minute left in the round Tiburcio swept Waterson by using sheer power to roll her over.
From there Waterson transitioned to an armbar that Tiburcio broke free from and landed some solid strikes from the top. Including a right hammer-fist that started the swelling of Waterson’s left-eye. Showing the heart of a champion, Waterson kept attacking from the bottom but Tiburcio was flexible and had great submission defense. By the time Waterson got back to her corner between rounds her left-eye looked nasty.
Waterson started the second round like her left-eye was rapidly swelling shut but could not slow the aggressive Tiburcio as she attacked. It took just 15 seconds to pin Waterson against the cage. After a grueling minute of grinding and grappling Waterson was again able to get the fight to the ground with herself on top. The sequence ended with Tiburcio going for a Toe-hold and Waterson pounding her way out with hammer-fists.
Once the fight went back to the standup Waterson still struggled with Tiburcio who landed some hard knees in the clinch. That prompted Waterson to go for a desperate submission attempt that failed and left her on the bottom taking damage from Tiburcio. After taking a little punishment from the ground-and-pound, Waterson once again proved that joint-lock submissions will not work against her. Tiburcio had her shoulder cranked into an unnatural position but Waterson easily got out of it with her insane flexibility.
Not only was Waterson able to escape the position but she put herself back on top of Tiburcio and started doing damage herself from there. This would lead to Tiburcio creeping her legs up and going for an armbar to close out the round. It ended with Waterson’s arm bent at angle not meant for mere humans.
Going into the third Tiburcio was winning the fight but we saw Waterson respond well before getting caught in the armbar at the end of the round. Many fighters would have folded under the attack of Tiburcio with their eye closing on them but Waterson showed the heart that won her the title. The problem for her was that Tiburcio also showed that she too has a champion’s heart.
The start of the third round quickly found Waterson on her back again. This time it was from a beautiful read by Tiburcio of a kick. She ducked under and in to quickly put Waterson down. They scrambled on the ground and for a moment there was an opening for the guillotine and Tiburcio did not hesitate. She snapped it in around the neck as she locked her legs in around Waterson’s body and gave Waterson no choice but to either tap or be choked out. Suddenly, surprisingly and stunningly we had a new Invicta FC atomweight champion.
Logically it would make sense to put these two back together in a rematch. The atomweight division is a slow-growing one and has lost a few fighters to the strawweight division who have hopes of making the UFC. There is not a deep title contender pool for Invicta FC to draw from at the moment.
There is Ayaka Hamasaki, who was suppose to fight Tiburcio at Invicta FC 9 to determine the next challenger for Waterson. Due to visa issues Tiburcio could not make that event but quickly accepted the fight with Waterson. If the former champion wants to take a little time off after two quick fights then a fight between Hamasaki and Tiburcio makes a lot of sense.
If Waterson wants to get back in there then it would only seem fair to give her the rematch. She showed throughout this fight that she has the heart of champion as she battled and was trying to win the fight up until she got submitted. Whoever faces Tiburcio next will have a formidable challenge as she showed the MMA world that she is a beast. At only 22 years-old she will only continue to get better. Something that is very scary for the rest of the division.
photo credit – Esther Lin/Invicta FC