Nicknamed “The Karate Hottie” for obvious reasons, Michelle Waterson was one of Onnit’s first sponsored athletes. More than a decade later, it’s a relationship that’s still going strong, as the former Invicta FC atomweight champ continues her climb up the UFC’s ranks while embarking on a movie career. But more important to Waterson than success and celebrity status, of course, is her daughter, Araya, 10, for whom she hopes to set a good example—without shielding from the harsh realities of what it takes to make dreams come true.
Waterson met with Onnit’s Director of Fitness Education, Shane Heins, for this week’s Onnit Story—part of our ongoing series of live interviews with people who have made inspiring life changes with Onnit in their corner. Watch the interview below, or see the edited transcript of the highlights, time-stamped so you can find these moments in the video.
You can stay up to date with Onnit Stories by following Onnit’s Instagram TV (IGTV), where a new one appears every other week.
Michelle Waterson Onnit Story Show Notes
6:15 – Onnit and Michelle: The match is made
Michelle Waterson: “Onnit has been my longest standing sponsor. It’s become family to me. Aubrey [Marcus, founder of Onnit] decided to sponsor me before I had really become anything. It was 2011, and I had just had my daughter and was looking for support. I went out to see Onnit’s headquarters, and I felt like it was Disneyland for adults who want to optimize their humanness, their health, in every way.
“So Aubrey and Onnit have been with me the whole way. I went on to become the 105-pound champ in Invicta, an all-female MMA organization, and then I signed with the UFC, and I’ve been there for eight years now.”
9:30 – The time having Onnit in her corner helped the most
“Onnit had my back when I won the Invicta belt, and Onnit had my back when I lost the belt. It’s nerve-racking to have sponsors when you’re an athlete, because when you lose, you never know if they’re still going to support you. Some companies just want to ride with you when you’re high, but Onnit was willing to stay with me when I was low.
“Aubrey brought me out to Onnit and we made a cool video about what it’s like to lose something—to have that fire in your belly, to keep pushing forward, and to know that your goal isn’t lost just because the fight was. We tried to show that losing should drive you forward to be even more passionate about what you’re trying to achieve.”
12:15 – On being a lover and a fighter
“As a fighter, I sign on the dotted line and then try to inflict as much damage on the other person as possible. I want to make you give up. That’s my career, but anybody who knows me knows that I’m a very compassionate, loving person. For a long time, I really struggled with owning the idea that I was a fighter.
“Then I talked to Aubrey, and he was like, ‘Fighting is your job. You might feel like you have to shy away from the aggression because you’re a good person, but this is what you and your opponent decided to do. It’s a mutual understanding. So if you don’t go in there and try your best to take your opponent out, you are doing yourself and your opponent a disservice.’
“The way Aubrey explained it, it really stuck with me. At the end of the day, mixed martial arts is still a kind of art. If I hold back from trying to create beautiful violence, then I’m doing everybody who’s watching me an injustice. So I owe it to my opponent to bring it!
“And after every fight you always walk away a better person. A smarter person. When the fight’s over, you’ve given that person a part of yourself and you’ve also taken a part of them, and made it a part of who you are. So there has to be mutual respect.”
15:15 – Michelle’s most memorable fight
“I had a fight with one girl whose claim to fame—her superpower—was never, ever giving up. She had never been submitted or finished in over 30 fights. So it was my goal to be the first one to finish her. I got on top of her and I was ground and pounding her, and she wasn’t protecting herself, so the ref stopped the fight. When it was over, I picked her up from the ground and she looked at me and she hugged me. And when she hugged me, she buried her face in my chest, and I could feel her trembling like she was crying, almost as if she was embarrassed. But she chose me to be the one to comfort her.
“I was the one that caused her that pain, but I was also the one that was there to console her. We weren’t fighting anymore, and I was just there because I understood the pain of loss. So I was there for her, to cover her tears so that nobody else could see, to keep that between the two of us. It was a very intimate moment and something that I will never forget.”
21:20 – Balancing being an athlete and a mother
“I try to explain it like this: You’re on a plane and the flight attendant tells you, ‘In case of emergency, these masks will drop down. Put the mask over your face first before you help your children.’ There’s no way you can help your child if you’re not taking care of yourself first.
“When I first had my daughter, I didn’t have a desire to do anything else but be with her. I wanted to just stare into her eyes, watch her sleep, make sure that she was breathing, and enjoy this little bundle that came out of me. But as time went on, I started to feel that fire in my heart again, and I wanted to continue to compete. Incorporate your family into what you’re doing, and let them know what your dreams and goals are. I let my daughter know that being a champion is my goal, and she understands that in order to reach it, sacrifices have to be made.
“I was gone the last four months filming a movie. It’s the longest I’ve ever been away from my family, but they understood that that was something that would help my career. I don’t think that your children will fully understand what goals are until you show them the sacrifices that are made for them. I think it’s our job as parents to show them what it is to be accountable. One of the ways that I know how to do that is through sports. They let you see what it is that you have to do in order to accomplish a goal.
“You have to put in time, work, effort. You can’t just want it. That’s what I always tell my daughter. Of course, we all want to be a superstar. Of course, you want to be a gold-medal Olympian. Of course, I want to win the UFC belt. But how am I going to get it? My daughter’s been doing gymnastics for four years now. She’s struggling, and she’s seeing the other girls get on the podium, and she’s not understanding why she hasn’t been able to. I said, ‘We have to put in the time. Put in the work. It’s not just the time that you go to gymnastics. It’s what you do on top of that. It’s the extra effort that you put in.’
“Outside of her gymnastics, we’re doing fun stuff that is still geared toward her goals. It’s silly things like, ‘Once you get 100 pullups, we’ll go to your favorite restaurant.’ I come up with fun challenges, but the results from doing them compounds over time. We have this huge calendar in our house where we’ve written down all our own individual goals as well as family goals. When you get your family involved, it’s not such a huge shock to anybody when a member of the family has to make sacrifices. We all understand why you’re sacrificing.”
26:40 – Shane and Michelle talk about how to make family understand your goals
Shane Heins: “I’ve heard people say their family makes them feel supported when they’re chasing their goals, and I’ve heard people say that their family makes them feel more alone. People are sometimes uncertain about whether they can share what they want to do, because they’re worried it might change the family dynamic.”
Michelle says: “I think people are scared of change. One of the things that allows you to be comfortable with your family, or in your relationship, is routine. So, when you’re trying to shake things up, it can make other people around you uncomfortable. They’re like, ‘Whoa! Wait, are you going to change on me? Is this going to make you want to do different things? Because that’s not what I signed up for.’
“I can talk to my husband and I can talk to my daughter, but it’s ultimately up to them to decide what they want to do in their lives. I always encourage change and growth and evolution. It’s important to want to grow, and I think that a relationship will begin to have troubles if you just try to keep it the same. You should want to grow with each other. [My husband] Josh and I have been together for almost 13 years, but we’re not the same people that we were when we first met. I think the best way to grow is to work on yourself and allow the people around you to see the positive impact that it’s had on you. When they are ready, share it with them.”
32:00 – Michelle’s advice for setting goals
“When you set a goal, you want to create habits that help you chip away at it. You take it one step at a time, versus trying to scale a mountain in one bound. And you have to cut yourself some slack when you fall short. If you forget to do what you said you were going to do for one day, you don’t give up on it altogether. I always give myself one day to mess up. If I create a goal to run every other day and I skip one of those days, I tell myself, “All right, just don’t skip another day.” If you miss more than that, you have to start the habit over again.
36:45 – Does Michelle let her daughter watch her fights?
“She’s been to pretty much all of my fights. People always ask me, ‘Why do you take her? Isn’t that scary?’ But I’m like, ‘Why?’ She needs to see the good, the bad, the ugly. Seeing me fight is actually the reward. She gets to deal with cranky Mom who’s dieting and working out four times a day and still has to cook dinner for months, so she should be able to see Mom in action. Then she can see what all that hard work was for.
“When my daughter was really young, she saw me get really, really hurt. I lost my belt. My eye was swollen shut, and she just kept staring at me. I was crying, so she was crying. She was touching my face, and I could see she was thinking, ‘Is this going to stay on, Mommy?’
“It was weird, because I had just lost, so I wanted to be selfish. I wanted to be pissed. I wanted to just crawl into a corner and cry. But mommy duties never end, and I realized that it was a really good teaching moment. Through my tears, I said, ‘Mommy’s OK. My eye doesn’t hurt as much as my heart hurts. I’m just sad because I lost.’ And then she understood.
“It was funny because she knows the movie Wreck-It Ralph, and [the character] Fix-It Felix. Felix has that hammer that he just hits things with and it fixes them. My daughter said, ‘We could go get Fix-It Felix’s hammer,’ and hammer my face to make it better. I mean, it made me smile, and it just kind of put things into perspective. Every time I try to give my daughter a teaching moment, I end up learning something for myself. I realized then, ‘It’s not the end of the world. You lost your belt, but look what you have in your hands right now.’”
41:25 – Michelle’s favorite Onnit supplements
“I love Alpha BRAIN ®, especially the little Instant packets you can take to go. I have them in my car, in my purse. They’re all over so that if I need them at any point in time, they’re there. Also, if I see somebody else who needs it, I’ll say, ‘Here, take some of this. You’ll thank me later.’
“I train four times a day, so I need to focus all those times. I’ll have coffee in the morning, but I don’t want to have coffee at three or four in the afternoon. So Alpha BRAIN ® comes in handy for helping me focus without caffeine.
“I also like New MOOD®, and I give that away to people like crazy. I have nurse friends that have trouble sleeping because their sleep schedules are so off, and I’m like, ‘Take some New MOOD® before you go to sleep.’ Everybody that I’ve given it to swears by it. For me, it’s really helpful because when you get into fight camp, your mind is just going nonstop. New MOOD® helps me relax and not think about anything and get a restful night’s sleep.”
45:10 – Michelle’s favorite training equipment
“I love kettlebells. I think they’re just so versatile. You can have a single kettlebell and get a complete full-body workout with it. I also like the sandbag, because sandbags are more realistic when you’re trying to simulate carrying another person’s body in your training. Lifting a body isn’t like lifting a bar or a ball. Bodies move, and the sandbag kind of mimics that movement. You can travel with a sandbag—empty it out, pack it up in your suitcase, get to wherever you’re going, and then fill it up with some dirty clothes or some sand from the beach.”
46:30 – Michelle’s favorite Onnit digital workout programs
“The Onnit 6 instructors are very inviting. They’re not intimidating. I think a lot of people look at some of Onnit’s athletes and they think they’re superhuman. ‘Yeah, right. I can’t do that.’ But anyone can do Onnit 6 Bodyweight. You don’t need any equipment, and you’d be surprised by all the things you can do with your body.
47:40 – Michelle’s favorite UFC fighter
“I’ve always looked up to Holly Holm. She’s one of my best friends and a huge mentor of mine. She walks the walk, and I’m a huge fan of someone who puts in the work.”
49:30 – Michelle’s workouts
“My workouts are more high-intensity, short spurts. So, in the morning, I’ll go for a run, and then I’ll go to an MMA class that’s an hour and a half. Then I’ll do a 30-minute mitt session, and an hour of strength and conditioning. Some of my workouts are 30 minutes; some of them are two hours. Some are really intense, and others are more technique-focused.”
51:00 – Michelle’s plans after fighting
“I would love to get more into acting in action movies. I’m such a movie buff. The reason why I love movies is because they inspire, they tell stories, and you get to play a character who’s outside of who you really are. I would also love to coach MMA.”
53:20 – How she stays motivated
Shane: “Is there a quote you think of when you feel like you’re close to giving up?”
Michelle: “I don’t know about a quote, but what I tell myself is, ‘Bring it on.’ You have to kind of bite down on your mouthpiece and swing for the fences. That’s what life is.”