Michelle Waterson got back on track with a win at UFC on FOX 29 but she definitely had a battle on her hands.
After suffering a pair of losses to reigning strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and top five ranked contender Tecia Torres, Waterson had to refocus as she took on Cortney Casey in the kickoff bout for the main card airing on FOX.
The early exchanges showed a massive difference in size between the two fighters as Casey towered over Waterson, which allowed her to land a couple of stinging punches from the outside. Casey blasted Waterson with a big left hand and then later in the round with a right that snapped her opponent's head around from the impact.
With Casey in control of the striking, Waterson opted for a ground attack as she was able to drag the fight to the ground with about 90 seconds remaining in the first.
Waterson nearly gave up an armbar from the bottom but finished the round on top as she tried to find an answer for Casey's size and reach going into the second.
As the fight continued, Casey did a better job of cutting off the cage and landing those same long punches that she was tagging Waterson with throughout the first. That led to Waterson looking for the takedown yet again, grabbing onto a single leg and getting the fight back to the mat.
Casey was still very active off her back, looking for a pair of armbars yet again but she seemed comfortable staying in the same position, which allowed Waterson to remain in control on top.
When the fight did finally work its way back to the feet, Waterson connected with a well-timed push kick that sent Casey flying backwards just as the second round ended.
The third round saw a similar set of sequences with Waterson looking for the takedown, Casey going for the armbar and not quite being able to finish the submission.
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With just over a minute to go, Waterson went for another single leg takedown but this time around Casey was able to sprawl out and reverse positions to take the back where she began raining down punches from above. Casey attempted to then look for a choke but transitioned to yet another armbar that came up short as the fight came to an end.
A truly back and forth battle over all three rounds ended with a split decision with two judges giving the nod to Waterson by scores of 29-28 as she earns the victory in a grueling three round war.
Waterson has faced a laundry list of top opponents since joining the UFC roster and she probably won't take a step back after her win on Saturday night.