Paige VanZant will make her return to the Octagon at the first UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night in January, where she faces Rachael Ostovich in the women’s flyweight division.
VanZant last fought ten months ago when she lost to Jessica-Rose Clark by unanimous decision. She also broke her arm in that contest, which forced her to undergo two surgeries to repair the broken limb.
Speaking ahead of her comeback in two months time, VanZant said she is “really excited” to get back into the Octagon and put all her injuries behind her. “The layoff has been difficult in the sense that I just really want to fight again. I’ve had long layoffs before and found success off the back of them. I don’t believe in ring rust; I think if you are prepared then that’s enough. I just can’t wait to get back in there,” added the 24-year-old.
VanZant, who has lost her last two UFC fights, admitted she found it difficult to get over her recent losses. “It’s really challenging after a loss. All eyes are on me and you can’t hide away from it. Social media can be tough as well because fans come down hard on you, but losses don’t define who I am and I need to constantly remind myself of that,” she said.
Ostovich is 1-1 in the UFC after making her debut in December 2017 with a first-round submission win over Karine Gevorgyan. She followed that with a submission loss to Montana De La Rosa in July.
While VanZant says her sole focus is on her upcoming fight, she believes she still has to work to do before a title shot comes along. “I still think I have to prove myself before I get any title shot. I know the division is quite small, but I need at least two or three wins before I get there. I’d obviously love if that opportunity came sooner, but I also want to give myself the proper time to prepare for something like that. I want to earn it,” said VanZant.
While her next bout is scheduled in the flyweight division, VanZant says she is still open to bouncing between flyweight and strawweight with a potential rematch with champion Rose Namajunas being one possibility.
"I see myself as the perfect fit between 115 pounds and 125 pounds and I intend to bounce back and forth depending on what opportunities arise and right now I see my opportunity at 125 pounds, but who knows where I might go after my next fight," she said. "The Rose fight is definitely an option down the line. We went five rounds already and that’s an opportunity that could be explored."
However, VanZant admits that she doesn’t enjoy forcing her body to make 115 pounds and says it’s very dangerous as a female fighter.
“When I fight at 115 pounds, it’s very difficult because I have to cut quite a lot of weight. I walk around at about 137 pounds, so it was causing a lot of harm to my body by cutting so much weight. As a female it’s also much more dangerous cutting so much weight because of the damage it can do to the body,” she added.
The UFC star also weighed in on the current debate around the men's flyweight division after most signs are pointing to it being dissolved in the near future.
"It’s really sad because there is a lot of talent in that division, so I hate to see them go, but I know there’s a lot of other successful organizations that they can transfer to. It’s hard for the UFC because most men aren’t that small. So, while the top five are incredibly talented, there aren’t a lot of men who are that size, so it’s difficult for it to be a strong division," VanZant explained.
"The UFC just has to go where they’ll make money. They’re an entertainment company and perhaps don’t see the value in it. But it is hard; I am a huge fan of Demetrious (Johnson) and he has been amazing for this sport and he was a great champion. I'm very excited to see his future at ONE and I think he is going to be great for them,” she added.
VanZant is currently in Portugal attending global tech conference Web Summit, where chief brand officer for WWE Stephanie McMahon is one of the other main speakers. VanZant flirted with the idea of following in the footsteps of Ronda Rousey in making a switch to WWE, but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
"I’m not ready to leave the UFC just yet. I love being a professional fighter and I still have a long career ahead of me. I also think the WWE is an amazing organization and it’s a very athletic entertainment industry which would suit me," she admitted.
"There’s probably huge potential for a crossover down the line and of course I’m a big fan of what they do, so it would be great to be a part of. I got the opportunity to talk to Stephanie for a little bit on Tuesday which was great.”
VanZant’s comeback fight in January will be the promotion’s first fight card under its new deal with ESPN.
(Written by MMAWeekly.com contributor Stephen Larkin)