Paige VanZant’s MMA career has moved at the type of ambitious, breakneck speed that one might assume came as the result of careful planning and plotting.
Not so, says the 20-year-old former model who won her UFC debut Saturday, beating Kailin Curran (3-0) with a third-round TKO. VanZant and Curran, who also was making her UFC debut, earned Fight of the Night honors and a $50,000 bonus.
“Oh gosh, this wasn’t the plan at all, at first,” a chuckling VanZant acknowledged to FOXSports.com before the fight.
“When I started training to fight, it was more out of boredom than anything. I was looking for more things to do. I started with boxing, and my coaches told me I had a lot of potential (in MMA), and that I should consider making it a career. I was like, ‘Whatever.’
“I was just 15 at the time, and I never imagined something like that. When I turned 18, they asked if I would take a fight and I said, ‘Yeah.’ I won it and all of the sudden, there was all this interest and all these opportunities. I had just one amateur fight, then my coach got a call for a pro fight for me. I thought about it and said, ‘If I’d fight anyway, I might as well get paid for it.’”
“Things kind of fell into place,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about the next fight or next thing.”Before she knew it, VanZant (3-1) was fighting some of the best women in the world at her weight class, 115 pounds.
Just because she never imagined she’d get this far, this fast, doesn’t mean that the young strawweight didn’t put the work in. Once the opportunities came her way, VanZant committed to her burgeoning career, first moving to Las Vegas and then to Sacramento to train with top teams.
She’s also dealt with her fair share of adversity over the past couple years: being turned down for “The Ultimate Fighter” because she was too young, losing to TUF fighter Tecia Torres, and enduring an 18-month layoff after suffering serious neck injuries. Recovered and training from her Reno home for her UFC debut, the former cheerleader says she’s in her element.
“I realized I wanted to make it a career in the cage after my first fight,” she remembers.She may have taken her first fights on a shrug and a hunch, but it didn’t take long for “12 Gauge” to know she’d found her calling.
“I didn’t dominate her, and I didn’t finish it and so I was so let down. Then, they called my name out as the winner and there was an instant change in me. I thought then, ‘I can do this as a career.’ It felt so good to fight and win, that I dove into it, and got focused.”