Michelle Waterson's dream of becoming the first UFC champion who is also a mother is still alive.
Snapping a two-fight losing streak, Waterson gutted out a split-decision win over Angela Hill in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Two judges scored it 48-47 for Waterson, while the third judge had it 49-46 for Hill. Waterson was able to rally back from a strong start by Hill to clinch what was a very close fight late.
Though the bout was extremely close, Waterson said she still felt confident with things going to the judges' scorecards.
"You never want to leave it in the hands of the judges," Waterson said in her postfight interview. "A split decision, it doesn't leave a very good feeling in your stomach."
Judge Derek Cleary had Waterson winning the final three rounds. Judge Sal D'Amato had Waterson winning rounds two through five. And Chris Lee, the lone judge who had Hill winning the fight, had Hill taking the first, second and fifth rounds.
The card took place without fans at the UFC Apex, the venue across from the UFC's corporate campus. The main event had significance in the UFC's women's strawweight division. ESPN had Waterson ranked No. 7 in the world in that weight class before the bout.
Hill was able to land her hard overhand right several times in the first round, causing some swelling around Waterson's left eye and forehead. That trend continued into the second round, though Waterson began to make adjustments, using her myriad kicks to keep Hill at bay.
In the third, Waterson gained the momentum. After a Hill jab caused Waterson to bleed from her nose, Waterson was able to take Hill down. Waterson had a ton of success once on the ground, getting into top position, doing some damage with ground-and-pound and looking for submissions. Waterson kept things on the feet in the fourth round, but really let her vaunted kicks go. Waterson landed hard side kicks to Hill's body and one side kick that landed square to Hill's jaw.
The fifth round was ultra close. Both women landed hard shots with punches and kicks. Hill ended the round with hard knees and elbows on Waterson against the cage. But the judges thought Waterson had done enough to earn the decision win.
Afterward, Waterson said the opponent she wants next is "whoever is the next for the belt."
"I want to get to the belt as fast as possible," Waterson said.
Waterson (18-8), a huge fan favorite, had dropped two straight prior to this bout, following a three-fight winning streak. The New Mexico resident has long stated her goal to become the first mother to win a UFC title and a win here puts her back on that path. Waterson, 34, is a former Invicta FC women's atomweight champion and a perennial contender in the UFC at strawweight since 2015.
Hill (12-9) has lost her past two fights by close split decisions. She was outpointed by Claudia Gadelha in May. Hill previously was on a three-fight winning streak.
Hill outlanded Waterson 131-128 in significant strikes and stopped 17 of 18 takedown attempts, per UFC Stats. Hill outlanded Gadelha four months ago 90-84.
"This is one of those fights where there was no loser. It was razor thin -- it was so close," UFC president Dana White said. "Whoever won, I wouldn't have said anything either way."
Hill, 35, became the first Black American woman to headline a UFC event Saturday night. She is one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster. She has the most fights in UFC women's strawweight history (16) and the UFC record for the least time in between six consecutive fights (337 days). This was Hill's seventh fight since March 23, 2019.
"I've just gotta go back to the drawing board," Hill said. "I felt like I did enough to take the fifth round. ... I keep having these moments. There's something that I have to figure out in the gym and bring it into the cage for my next fight to stop that from happening."