The ever-popular “Karate Hottie,” Michelle Waterson-Gomez, returned to action at UFC 287, paired up with surging Brazilian Luana Pinheiro.
Undefeated in the UFC, Pinheiro was looking for her third win inside the octagon, and ninth straight win overall.
Waterson-Gomez, meanwhile, was 1-4 in her last five and hoping to bring a two-fight skid to a halt.
Early on, Waterson-Gomez connected with a low kick, working from the outside. More kicks followed; when Pinheiro closed the distance, swinging, her combination hit only air. A cracking leg kick from Pinheiro did hit the mark, however, and the difference in power between the fighters was clear.
Waterson-Gomez connected with a spinning elbow next, which drew a reaction but didn’t seem to phase Pinheiro. The Brazilian continued to kick, almost whip, Waterson-Gomez’s legs, and load up on her punches. “The Karate Hottie” fired a front kick that fell short, and a second high kick that was closer, but still hit air. That may have foreshadowed a later front kick that dropped Pinheiro on her backside; Pinheiro was right back up, but Waterson-Gomez’s kicks were clearly worthy of respect.
Later in the frame, Pinheiro landed a heavy right hand, and swarmed, swinging for the fences. Unfortunately for Pinheiro, the buzzer rang before she could overwhelm Waterson-Gomez.
Round two opened with Waterson-Gomez immediately putting the pressure on, landing on Pinheiro, adding a front kick, and walking the Brazilian down. A nasty calf kick then landed for Pinheiro, causing Waterson-Gomez to stumble, but not fall. Pinheiro would land another calf kick later, after a Waterson-Gomez combo. While the American was still attacking, her leg was a question mark. Moments later, Pinheiro would explode with a flurry of strikes, the power in her hands forcing Waterson-Gomez to retreat.
That led to a clinch along the fence, with Pinheiro firing knees. Waterson-Gomez would escape, and the pair traded leg kicks. Pinheiro then caught a kick, punching Waterson-Gomez while holding onto the limb. Only the impeccable balance of Michelle Waterson-Gomez kept her outright.
Later in the second, Pinheiro landed a couple more big shots. Wary of the calf kicks, Waterson-Gomez was fighting at range, but the trade-off was that she struggled to close the distance and land effectively, as she had earlier in the fight.
Early in the third, Waterson-Gomez changed levels and took the fight down, though she was unable to hold Pinheiro there. She did hold onto the bodylock, however, firing knees. Pinheiro attempted to break free, but Waterson-Gomez stayed on her. Pinheiro tried to throw her opponent; the “Karate Hottie” managed to stay upright herself. Instead, they ended up in a clinch, with Pinheiro briefly in control before Waterson-Gomez pushed her off.
In the open, Waterson-Gomez ducked a spinning back kick. Pinheiro’s output appeared to have dropped off. She was looking for an opening, while Waterson-Gomez continued working her side kicks. In the final minute, Waterson-Gomez timed a level change and took Pinheiro down ever so briefly. When they came up, it was Waterson-Gomez in control.
In a close fight in which both ladies had their moments, it was Pinheiro coming away with the split decision win.
Official Result: Luana Pinheiro def. Michelle Waterson-Gomez by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)