Michelle Waterson and Angela Hill were not the originally planned main eventers for UFC Fight Night on Saturday, but it would be hard for anyone to top the all-action women's strawweight battle. After five hard-fought rounds that saw wild momentum swings, Waterson was able to take a narrow split decision win and score arguably the biggest win of her Octagon career.
Waterson and Hill were originally scheduled for the co-main event for the card, which took place Saturday at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, but were upgraded to the five-round main event when original headliner Glover Teixeira tested positive for COVID-19 and his bout with Thiago Santos was postponed. The opportunity also made history as Hill became the first African-American woman to headline a UFC event.
Through the first two rounds of the fight, both women were willing to stand and trade big shots, though it was the power punches of Hill that were dominating the action. After early punches from Hill, Waterson was sporting a large hematoma on her forehead and some swelling under her right eye. Waterson mixed in some takedown attempts through the opening frames, but Hill powered through to remain upright.
That changed in Round 3, with Waterson, now bleeding heavily from the nose, catching a Hill kick and driving the fight to the mat. On the ground, Waterson dominated position, keeping Hill from scrambling to her feet and landing some ground and pound to fire up a potential comeback. Waterson carried the momentum into Round 4, where she was able to push the pace and begin to control the striking action, including landing some of her trademark kicks to the body and face of Hill.
With the fight almost certainly close on the scorecards heading into Round 5, both women came out firing, Hill with heavy punching combinations and Waterson letting loose with kicks. In the final moments, Waterson unloaded with combinations, yelling with every strike. Hill answered by pinning Waterson to the cage and landing a flurry of knees and a few punches of her own, both leaving a mark befitting the brutal back-and-forth action that came before.
After five close, action-packed rounds of action, the fight went to the judges' scorecards, with Waterson taking a split decision by scores of 48-47, 49-46, 47-48.
"I wanted to submit her," Waterson said of the takedown in Round 3 that changed the fight's momentum. "I wanted to take her down and finish the fight."
While she didn't manage to get that finish, she did get the victory and moves closer to a chance to fight for UFC gold, snapping a two-fight losing skid coming into the night.
"[I want to fight] whoever's the next contender to fight for the belt," Waterson said. "I want to get to the belt as fast as possible."