MMA Fighter Michelle Waterson on staying tough in the ring—and as a mom

Take Your Daughter to Work Day is a little different for Michelle Waterson.

Her daughter, Araya, 6, has seen Waterson with a broken hand, a huge black eye—not the usual for the board room, but certainly a possibility for the locker room, following a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bout in the octagon.

It’s at that moment, says Waterson, 31, a professional MMA fighter now ranked among the top 10 for her class (strawweight), that she is able to impart a visceral lesson on resiliency to her girl:

“I tell her Mommy’s fine. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”

Speaking at Mobilizing the Power of Women, a New York City event hosted by Ellevate Network, on June 21, Waterson said she followed her brothers into martial arts 20 years ago.

“I was always ‘yes, ma’am’ to everyone,” she recalls. “I didn’t have the confidence to get through high school. Martial arts gave me the voice I needed to carry on in life.”

It also gave her a career—and a brand. Today, the 5-ft.-3-in. fighter also known as the Karate Hottie, is on “the fast track to becoming one of MMA's most famous athletes, regardless of weight or gender,” according to Bleacher Report.

Waterson credits her hard-fought success to both her hard work to prepare for each bout as well as her husband, former boxer Joshua Gomez, who gave up his career to support hers as well as their family.

“I think it takes a strong man to say, ‘My wife is a bad ass,’ and support her all the way,” says Waterson of Gomez.

It takes eight to ten weeks to prepare for a bout that can last just 15 to 20 punishing minutes.

“Only I know if I’ve put in 100%,” says Waterson. “Everyone asks, ‘Are you ready?’ But only I know if I put the work in. If everything isn’t aligned physically, spiritually, then you’re not going to be ready.”

But, she adds, “if I put the work in, then I can let the punches fly and what’s going to happen happens.”

Which brings her to the locker room, where her other roles as a wife and mother await. Waterson notes that her pregnancy arrived in the middle of her fighting career and that she wasn’t sure at first what impact it would have.

Ten months after giving birth—and a few hours after breastfeeding—however, Waterson was back in the octagon.

Today, when Araya asks why Mommy has boo boos, Waterson tells her: “In a fight, there are only two outcomes: You win or you lose. Victory is amazing, failure is not.”

“And,” adds Waterson, “I don’t say Mommy’s a female fighter. I say Mommy’s a fighter. Mommy’s a warrior.”