This past Saturday, Luke Rockhold laid waste to ex-champ Lyoto Machida in UFC on FOX 15’s headliner, but the person who caught everyone’s attention was women’s strawweight Paige VanZant.
VanZant (5-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC), 21, picked up her second UFC victory by outpointing veteran Felice Herrig (10-6 MMA, 1-1 UFC) via unanimous decision in the event’s first main card bout on FOX. And apparently, she made the biggest impression.
“She’s 21 years old; she doesn’t have a lot of experience, but boy, she’s a scrapper,” UFC President Dana White told MMAjunkie at the post-event press conference at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. “She comes in, she fights, and taking on a veteran like Felice and doing what she did to Felice tonight, and she’s got that thing that I always talk about that you can’t teach.
“Everybody in my dressing room tonight wanted to meet her. So we brought her back, and she’s got that thing.”
White often meets with celebrities and other dignitaries backstage, as fans see in his video blogs. The requests for VanZant underscore the huge impression she’s made in just two appearances in the octagon.
Of course, those appearances, especially at tonight’s event, were shadowed by critics who thought she was being promoted for the wrong reasons. Several fighters have openly stated, they couldn’t fault VanZant for being marketable as a young and attractive female, but they didn’t necessarily think it was fair. Herrig said VanZant wouldn’t have made it past the first round of “The Ultimate Fighter 20” show, which she didn’t qualify for due to age restrictions.
Herrig, who was eliminated in the quarterfinals, took the fight to VanZant early on, but she was overwhelmed on the mat and took damage as the fight progressed.
“Maybe she was stronger; she obviously looks a lot stronger than me, but even when you’re a black belt, when you’re getting punched in the face, those things kind of go away,” said VanZant of the fight. “When you’re in a fight, it doesn’t matter what skill set you have – if you don’t have the heart, then your strength and attributes fall back.”
VanZant took her critics in stride and didn’t bite at an opportunity to tell off those who doubted her.
“That was the plan,” VanZant said of her dominance performance.
“Of course, I wanted to go out there and get a dominant performance,” she continued. “Everyone wants to finish their fight right away, but I’m really happy with my performance tonight. I still have a lot to work on. I’m very young in this sport. Every single fight I’m going to change. I’m not technically the best yet, but I’m at the perfect camp for that.”
VanZant trains at the famed Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif. Her win is likely to place her within the top 15 women’s strawweights in the UFC, a position that likely means she won’t be given any breaks.
White joked that VanZant is the “danger zone,” meaning whether or not she’s ready, more tough challenges lie ahead.
Although VanZant said she wouldn’t turn down any fight offered her, including a title shot, she will be learning on the job. Now, it’s a question of how fast the UFC moves her along.