It has been a little over a year since Michelle Waterson stepped into the cage to compete in MMA.
The Invicta FC atomweight champion was last seen in her upset victory over Jessica Penne, which took place at Invica FC 5 on April 5, 2013. The victory marked one of the biggest upsets of the year, and later even warranted a nomination for the Fighter's Only award with the same title.
One would assume that as Invicta champ, Waterson would have been more active as a competitor, but that has certainly not been the case. Considering she has been injury-free throughout the majority of that period, she spent the time both with her family, as well as developing her skill set for potential challengers in the near future.
"I've been taking this time to really perfect my skills and learn new skills because it the best time to do so, when you don't have to prepare for another fighter." Waterson told BloodyElbow.com. "I have just been trying to stay busy in the gym. I have teammates that have fights coming up so it is nice for me to kind of be there for them as a training partner. I am just trying to improve my skills and get better each day."
Another reason for Waterson's consistent training regiment over the past year stems from the pressure of being a champion. She believes that the gold puts a significant amount of responsibility on her shoulders, as well as a bullseye on her back.
"It puts a little bit more responsibility on my back. Now that I am champ I have a target on my back and I know that everybody else wants to beat me, so when I'm in the gym I train even harder that ever because I know everybody is going to try and come get me."
While her interest is to remain champion and defend her title, Waterson did mention that it was hard to remain focused at times, particularly with the responsibilities of a full-time mother added to the mix. She found that the recent hype surrounding The Ultimate Fighter season 20, which will feature the women's strawweight (115lb.) division, was a fantastic source of motivation.
"It is hard to stay motivated. I have teammates in the gym that are fighting and when I watch them fight it gets me fired up to become better. With all of the hype that is going on right now with the next TUF  and with the UFC adding the 115lb. division, it is things like that that keep me motivated because I know that once I stop training, somebody else will better than me and I can't let that happen."
Waterson is yet to have her next opponent revealed to her, but she does expect to end her hiatus within the next couple of months. She also made it quite clear that she is not interested in an immediate rematch against Penne.
"I do plan on fighting very soon, hopefully in the next couple of months. I don not have a date or an opponent set yet but I am hoping I get to work soon.
"I don't have any intention of rematching Jessica right away."
With the UFC showing a keen interest in the women's 115lb. division, one would assume that Waterson, a former strawweight fighter, would be interested in joining that roster in the octagon. While she admit that she is open to all opportunities, she would like to defend her title belt and finish her Invicta contract before considering future alternatives.
"I just want to be ready for any doors or opportunities that might open for me in the future. The truth is I still have two fights with Invicta and I would like to defend my belt. Outside of that I do not know what the future holds.
"I love Shannon [Knapp] because I know that at the end of the day she cares about the athletes, their well-being and their careers. That's one of the reasons that I love Invicta.
The reason behind Waterson's intent to defend her title is simple: she would like to prove to all her doubters that she is a complete fighter and a worthy champion.
"First and foremost, I need to defend my belt. My biggest goal right now is to hold onto the Invicta title and to really make a name for myself because, even though I did beat Penne in that fight, there are still a lot of people that doubt my abilities and skills as a fighter.
I'd like to showcase my skills and ability a little bit more so that my presence as an MMA fighter is a little more concrete. "