Paige VanZant’s not pressured by newfound stardom, she’s focused on evolving her fight game

photo credit: J.P. Marretta - Fight Corner

photo credit: J.P. Marretta – Fight Corner

Paige VanZant (4-1) is the UFC’s new ‘it’ girl. The dynamic fighter is the complete package: skill, an effervescent personality and smashing looks. At just 20-years-old, VanZant has the right combination to keep surging in the promotion. If she can continue to put together wins, the sky’s the limit.

Ranked at no. 10 in the division, the strawweight recently signed into an exclusive contract with Reebok. Only champions or title contenders, like Conor McGregor, were previously sponsored by the UFC’s new uniform partner. VanZant signed with the athletic apparel sponsor after just one UFC fight.

“I’m just so thankful that they’ve chose to have me as one of their athletes,” said VanZant in an interview with The Fight Corner. “And I love all their stuff, so it’s very exciting that I get to be signed with them.”

On Apr. 18, “12 Gauge” will confront her next adversary in the cage. Ahead of her lies Felice Herrig (10-5) who is currently ranked at no. 8 in the 115-pound women’s division. Herrig made it to the quarterfinals of The Ultimate Fighter season 20 tournament where she was submitted by Randa Markos. VanZant had also been expected to join the cast, but the Nevada Athletic Commission wouldn’t permit her to as she was not of age to live in a house fully stocked with alcohol.

Herrig has been a veteran of the sport for some time and believes the most competitive women in the division were under the TUF roof. Known for her strong Muay Thai and grappling skills, “Lil Bulldog” finished Lisa Ellis at the TUF 20 Finale with an armbar.

VanZant knows she still has to make an impact in this fight and showcase all she can do. In her UFC debut against Kailin Curran, she pulled off a TKO stoppage in the third round and took home Fight of the Night as well.

“I’m just going to have to go and prove myself in this fight, just like I did in my last fight,” said VanZant. “I put on a very dominant performance and I hope I can do the same in this one.”

“Felice is definitely going to be my toughest competitor,” added VanZant. “She’s going to be the toughest athlete I’ve ever faced. I’m very excited for this fight and hope that I can, between now and Apr. 18th, that I can really develop as an athlete and just win.”

To fine tune her skill set, VanZant is fully engulfed into her latest camp in Sacramento, Ca., at Team Alpha Male. In her own words, her preparation for Herrig “couldn’t be better.” She’s improving in all areas and has faith that her coaches have worked out a solid game plan for her scrap in New Jersey.

“I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve really been evolving as a fighter and I’m continuing to learn everyday. They offer so much knowledge. It’s just a team full of amazing, amazing athletes and I hope that I can contribute to the team as much as I’ve gotten out of it.”

VanZant journeyed from her home base in Reno, Nev., specifically to enhance her wrestling. Without a doubt, Team Alpha Male was the right place for her to land since the camp is known for their grappling, fight-ending guillotines and wrestling strengths. One day, VanZant hopes to fight for the title and thinks that her improvements in those areas will pay off if she ever faces current strawweight champ Carla Esparza for the belt.

“Carla’s an amazing wrestler and an amazing athlete and I know I need to put in the work to be on par with her. And thankfully, one day I believe I will be [the champion],” stated VanZant.

For right now, her focus is entirely on Felice. She realizes that she has a formidable opponent ahead. VanZant, though young in age, is wise beyond her years. That mentality has taken her far, even beyond just her MMA career.

At 16, VanZant went to college on a two-year scholarship. She didn’t graduate as she changed her major several times, but eventually sees herself returning to get a degree. She also has graced the covers of teen magazines and hopes to be an inspiration to younger audiences.

With the attention seeming to turn her way overnight, VanZant’s media responsibilities have increased. No matter how much additional pressure that may add, she welcomes the spotlight.

“I think that when you’re very passionate about something, that you’re willing to do anything possible to achieve that dream. And I’m just so passionate about fighting that I’m willing to do all these little things and it really doesn’t stress me out. It’s just another part of the fighting game. So I’m just having a lot of fun and get to fight people.”

“Everything with fighting I take one day at a time,” she added. “All these amazing opportunities have come forth that I never would have dreamed of. So it’s nothing I could have prepared myself for, but I’m prepared to take the journey and see all these things that come my way and take everything on one day at a time.”

Herrig vs. VanZant will be a part of UFC on FOX 15 on Apr. 18th. The event will take place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey and will be headlined by middleweights Luke Rockhold and Lyoto Machida.

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