Michelle Waterson-Gomez Reflects on 17-Year MMA Career & Retirement

Michelle Waterson-Gomez announced her retirement from MMA after a 17-year career following a loss at UFC 303, expressing gratitude for her journey and the sacrifices made by her family while reflecting on her achievements and challenges in the sport.

Michelle Waterson-Gomez knew it was time.

At UFC 303, “The Karate Hottie” officially signaled the end of her 17-year career when she announced her retirement following a loss to Gillian Robertson. During Waterson-Gomez’s post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, the promotion played a heartwarming video on the T-Mobile Arena screens recapping some of her best moments inside the cage.

In an emotional conversation, Waterson-Gomez appeared on The MMA Hour afterward to talk about what led her to make the decision to hang up the gloves for good.

“I’ve been fighting for over 17 years,” Waterson-Gomez said. “My husband sacrificed a lot in order for me to fight. He sacrificed his own fighting career. As long as my daughter’s been born, she’s been a gym kid. You take her to the gym, she was in the car seat, she’s had to sacrifice birthdays, events, change around things on her end so mommy can train, so mommy can fight. She’s getting older, and I want to be in her corner. I want to be in my husband’s corner. There are a lot of things that he’s doing right now that I want to be a part of."

“I’m not getting any younger," she continued. "I think that you just kind of have to recognize things for what they are, and as a fighter and a competitor, if I could, I would stay in chasing the wins, chasing that incredible high that you get when you win, chasing the gold." But reality hit hard: "I think I just had to recognize where I was at in my MMA career," she admitted. "The amount of time and sacrifice I was putting into that could be put into a different direction where I can get a win in different areas of life.”

Heading into her final fight, Waterson-Gomez said she only told a handful of people (including close friend and teammate Holly Holm) that she was planning to retire because she didn’t want anyone thinking she wasn’t fully committed to preparing for Robertson. She knew the Canadian was tough; all her thoughts were on ending a four-fight losing skid.

The bout didn’t go Waterson-Gomez’s way—Robertson outworked her for a unanimous decision—but since UFC 303, support and respect have been overwhelming.

“It fills my heart; it really does,” Waterson-Gomez said. “It’s crazy." Reflecting on childhood dreams: "If you were to ask me when I was a little girl what did you think you were going to be when you grow up? Never in a million years imagined I’d be a professional fighter for the UFC." Yet here we are: "That’s where the road took me and I’m eternally grateful."

“The fight game is tough," she mused. "It’s unforgiving." Challenges lurk at every step: "You’re met with challenges every step of the way and it can be lonely sometimes." The climb demands selfishness: "You have to be very selfish in order to climb the ladder.” But that’s life too: “That’s why I fell in love with fighting—it mirrors life itself."

Waterson-Gomez never fought for a title during her UFC run; her 6-9 record doesn’t scream all-time great but consistently went toe-to-toe with top-tier fighters earning devoted fans along the way.

When she made her pro debut back in 2007? It predated Invicta FC’s first show by five years and UFC’s first women’s fight by six.

Back then? No promise of fame or riches awaited female fighters but persistence paid off—she became one of UFC’s most respected veterans.

“I think I’m most proud of believing enough in myself,” Waterson-Gomez said proudly. “Putting myself before almost untouchable goals.” A little karate girl from rural Colorado who forced her way into this world against all odds.

“Rashad [Evans] told me once: ‘You’re not even supposed to be here,’” recalling fondly how he meant it as praise—she forced herself into this space through sheer willpower alone.

From point-sparring karate growing up? To staying at MMA’s top tier—a journey full circle filled with prideful moments fighting best-in-the-world staying top ten majority career until recently climbing high proud achievements indeed!


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