Paige VanZant’s Road from UFC Wunderkind to Bare Knuckle Boxer
Paige VanZant defeats Rachael Ostovich
Paige VanZant, at only 26 years old, has already built an impressive resume in her short time as a fighter. As a Strawweight competitor in UFC she went 8-5-0 before her contract expired, which culminated in her signing a multi-million dollar exclusivity deal in August of 2020 with Bare Knuckle FIghting Championship (BKFC). BKFC debuted on the combat sport scene in 2018, offering the first officially sanctioned and legal bare-knuckle boxing sport in over 130 years. The promotion also features a unique “squared-circle” that has four ropes inside a circular ring. VanZant is tentatively scheduled to make her promotion debut in February in the first of four contracted fights.
VanZant started her amateur career training with UFC Hall-of-Fame fighter Ken Shamrock at his famous Lion’s Den gym. After a few amateur fights, VanZant made her professional debut in the Ultimate Warrior Fightings Tournament of Warriors Finale with a win by split-decision. VanZant then bounced around between different promotions before being signed at 20 years old in December of 2013 to UFC to compete in their newly generated Strawweight division. She was also attached to compete in that season’s The Ultimate Fighter, but was unable to participate due to not meeting the age minimum of 21.
VanZant found success early on in her UFC career. Her first match was against Kailan Curran (4-7-0), who was also making her UFC debut. VanZant won by TKO in a tough match and excellent performance by both competitors, even earning both fighters the title of “Fight of the Night”. Her next fight was a match against Felice Herrig (14-9-0), currently the #15 ranked UFC Women’s Strawweight, that VanZant won by unanimous decision.
VanZant continued her hot streak with her third consecutive win over Alex Chambers (5-5-0), who herself had made her debut in The Ultimate Fighter season that VanZant was too young to compete in. After rattling off three straight wins to kick off her UFC career, VanZant was awarded her first headlining event at UFC Fight Night 80. That main card featured VanZant competing against Rose Namajunas, the current #1 ranked Women’s Strawweight fighter. VanZant lost the fight by submission in the fifth round of the grueling match.
Around this time, VanZant’s national profile had begun to rise. She became the youngest women’s fighter in UFC history to receive her own individual deal with Reebok. She took a break from the UFC to compete in the 22nd season of Dancing with the Stars and was also a celebrity contestant on the Food Network’s Chopped.
In 2017, VanZant moved from the Strawweight to the Flyweight division, but past and present injuries were beginning to take their toll. After suffering from several back injuries and a broken arm, she went just 1-2 over three years in the new division. Her last fight in the UFC was a loss by submission to Amanda Ribas (10-1) in the first round. In a move that surprised many, VanZant chose not to renew her contract with UFC. Srill, her fighting days weren’t over, and after briefly entertaining offers from Bellator, VanZant signed her new deal with BKFC.
In an interview with MMA FIghting, VanZant expressed her excitement about the move to BKFC.
“I’ve been a fan of their sport and it’s something that I’m really going to be able to show off my striking. If you look at my MMA career, my biggest downfall has been my jiu-jitsu and my striking has been my passion. I’m so excited to show that off.”
VanZant is still a young fighter and her career and should hopefully bounce back with a change of scenery and after recovering from the myriad of injuries that plagued her at UFC. She has already found fame and wealth in such short order, only time will tell if she can finally bring home the one accomplishment that has eluded her so far: a championship.