The Curious Case of Paige VanZant

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At one time in 2015, Paige VanZant was one of the most recognisable faces in the UFC. Starting her UFC career, she progressed quickly to 3-0, with two appearances on main cards. This lead to her headlining her first main event against the future champion, Rose Namajunas. Since then, however, she has gone 3-2, has pulled out of two fights and took two-year-long layoffs. We take a look at the career of Paige VanZant and what happened how her hype train derailed.

Build-Up to her First Main Event

Paige VanZant was set to make her UFC debut after a 3-1 career outside of the promotion. She was scheduled to debut at UFC Fight Night 54 but was forced to pull out with a back injury. Eventually making her debut at UFC Fight Night 57, she finished the undefeated Kailin Curran. She returned against Felice Herrig at UFC on FOX 15. On this occasion, she went the distance and featured on the main card for the first time. This alone showed how much faith the UFC put in VanZant.

Paige VanZant featured in her third UFC bout later in 2015, defeating Alex Chambers by armbar in the third round. This is the fight that set up Paige VanZant’s first main event. Scheduled to face TUF alumni Joanne Calderwood at UFC Fight Night 80, everyone was thinking that a win for ‘12 Gauge’ could catapult her into the title picture. 

The Beginning of the Demise

Unfortunately, Calderwood has to pull out of the main event in Las Vegas and was replaced by #3 Rose Namajunas. Namajunas won a lopsided fight, submitting Paige VanZant in the fifth round.

Following the loss to Namajunas, VanZant stepped away from the cage in order to compete in a different realm. She swapped the octagon for the dance floor and competed on Dancing With the Stars. Making the final, VanZant burst into the mainstream ‘celebrity’ picture.

After her stint on the reality show, VanZant returned to MMA to take on Bec Rawlings. In another main card fight, VanZant picked up one of the knockouts of the year, finishing Rawlings with a jumping switch kick. This marked her second knockout in her UFC career.

Paige VanZant clearly had the ability to be a contender at this time in the UFC. However, she was struggling to cut the weight necessary to make 115lbs. With no current flyweight division and with PVZ being too small to compete at 135lbs, she would have to stay at strawweight.

Her next bout would be against Michelle Waterson, again, a main event slot. This time it would take place in Sacramento, California. VanZant was very much the hometown fighter, having trained at Team AlphaMale throughout her career. Although VanZant would ultimately lose this bout, she certainly went out on her shield.

Waterson chokes out VanZant in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, CA – DECEMBER 17: (R-L) Michelle Waterson secures a rear choke submission against Paige VanZant in their women’s strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Golden 1 Center Arena on December 17, 2016 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Pullouts and Other Work

Paige VanZant was now, entering 2017 7-3 in her UFC career. 2-2 in her last four bouts, it was time for a change. Since her bout with Waterson, the flyweight division materialised within the UFC. 

At UFC 216, PVZ was set to make her flyweight debut against a fighter who had also been fighting outside of her weight class. Jessica Eye has fought her whole career at 135lbs in the UFC but was naturally a flyweight. VanZant never made the walk, however, pulling out of the bout citing multiple injuries.

She would eventually make her flyweight debut, although it came three months later than planned. She faced Aussie, Jessica-Rose Clark. Despite a well-matched fight, VanZant (unfortunately for her) broke her forearm early in the fight. Amazingly she still fought her way to a decision, although it was a loss.

Obviously, this kind of an injury would take time to heal and it would be over a year until we saw Paige VanZant back in the octagon. We would see her return, over a year later at UFC on ESPN+ 1. Here she took on Rachel Ostovich. In a fight which realised an armbar finish for VanZant, it was clear she had a skill advantage. Following the fight, she progressed to 8-4, whereas Ostovich fell to 4-5.

The Curious Case of Paige VanZant

Starting the new year off, it has now been over a year (again) since we have seen Paige VanZant compete in the octagon. Yes, she has had her injury problems, having broken her arm again following the Ostovich fight. This saw her have a metal rod inserted into her arm.

She has kept in work, however, starting a commentary role with M1 Global. Outside of all things MMA, VanZant also followed in the steps of Ronda Rousey, by being photographed for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit edition.

PVZ was set to make her return to the cage at UFC on ESPN+ 28 against Amanda Ribas, but it was announced that she had to withdraw from the fight again due to injury. This is the third UFC fight that she has been forced to withdraw from as a result of an injury. 

Throughout her UFC tenure (starting in late 2014), Paige VanZant hasn’t had the easiest of rides. She started well, with three back to back victories which lead to a main event slot. This is where it began to go downhill for ‘12 Gauge’ however. Having been forced to take three-year-long breaks in her career so far, it has certainly stunted her progression as a mixed martial artist.

Will we see Paige VanZant in the octagon again? She certainly has the skills to compete at a competitive level. She also has the recognisable name, as well as a building rivalry with Maycee Barber. If she chooses to step away from competing, no one could blame her, having set up a number of opportunities away from fighting for herself. Whatever happens, the case of Paige VanZant is certainly a curious one.

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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