Bellator middleweight Austin Vanderford is convinced his wife and former UFC star Paige VanZant will return to mixed martial arts in the future - he hopes with the Bellator fight league - but for now VanZant has shocked the fight world by signing for Bare Knuckle FC after her contract with the UFC expiring. The 26-year-old opted for the drastic change in direction despite offers to stay in mixed martial arts.
Vanderford, who met VanZant in the gym, where they fell in love, backs her surprise career pivot, despite harbouring hopes she will still switch allegiances to Bellator down the line. “My wife did sign with Bare Knuckle,” he said. "Of course I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want her to be here and join me in Bellator. But that decision took a lot of soul-searching for her.
“She felt at this point in her career she needed to make some changes to continue to compete with the top girls. What she’s going to do now will extend the longevity of her career. I know that sounds ironic since she’s going to fight in bare knuckle. But she’s only 26 and this gives her the opportunity to work on some things. Really work on her striking.” VanZant has famously revealed she pocketed more from a stint on American TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’ than she did in her entire career in the UFC.
VanZant also has a huge fanbase on social media, commanding 2.7million followers alone on Instagram. Vanderford is some way behind his other half with 148,000 Instagram followers of his own, although he is quickly building a formidable reputation in the welterweight and middleweight divisions within Bellator.
While VanZant prepares for her Bare Knuckle FC debut, pencilled in for the first quarter of 2021, Vanderford assured MMA fans her ultimate goal was a return to the cage. “[I know] she’s more than likely going to come back to MMA,” he insisted. “She wants to try and work on becoming a more well rounded fighter. “I’m biased, but in my opinion she will be one of the best [female fighters] in the world [when she does return].”
VanZant was by her husband’s side as he moved to 10-0 last Thursday at Bellator 251, Vanderford’s first fight since relocating to American Top Team in Florida. UFC veteran Thiago Alves and another fresh signing at Bare Knuckle FC is based at the same gym and Vanderford expects VanZant to improve rapidly in the new surroundings. “We want the best for each other in our fight careers,” he said.
“American Top Team has really set up a good bare knuckle programme right now. Thiago Alves just had his debut and he looked amazing. He fought somebody who had already had four fights. They have a cool little crew there. It’s a little bare knuckle fighting team, there’s great coaches there. We still go to practise at the same time everyday so really nothing has changed for us.”
One thing is for certain, the husband and wife team will fight on strong.
Bellator 252 is live on Sky Sports this Thursday night from midnight featuring Patricio Pitbull vs Pedro Carvalo and Daniel Weichel vs Emmanuel Sanchez